Cross-industry collaboration becoming more important in EV market

A large-scale cross-industry collaboration has kicked into gear in the electric vehicle market with the potential to expand. Expectations are high for a tie-up of the technological prowess of two of Japan’s leading companies.

Sony Honda Mobility Inc., a joint venture between Sony Group Corp. and Honda Motor Co. launched to develop and market EVs, has unveiled a prototype as its first product at a recent consumer electronics and tech exhibition in Las Vegas.

The company named the sedan Afeela. It said it plans to start rolling out the vehicle in 2025, first in North America and then Japan.

In the global EV market, U.S. firm Tesla, Inc. and some Chinese companies are increasing their sales, while Japanese makers are lagging behind.

Automobiles are a key industry in Japan. The companies need to maintain their competitiveness in EVs, which are regarded as the mainstay of next-generation vehicles amid efforts toward decarbonization. It is important to make Sony’s participation in the market a catalyst for Japanese makers to turn things around.

The prototype car is equipped with a large horizontal screen in front of the driver’s seat and front passenger seat. It is designed to allow users to enjoy movies, music and games via the internet — a field that is Sony’s forte. The model also has a function that provides updates via the internet after purchase for aspects such as driving performance.

The vehicle is also installed with many sensors and cameras for which Sony has the technological strength to enhance safety performance.

Sony and Honda have much in common, including their history of growing into global companies from startups. It is hoped that they will expand the potential of new vehicles beyond mere transportation by bringing their expertise to the table.

In the industrial world, open innovation — a concept of combining knowledge from different industries and fields — is becoming increasingly important. The trend will likely be even stronger in automobiles if software, such as entertainment, comes to determine the value of a vehicle as much as hardware performance.

It is essential for other manufacturers, including Toyota Motor Corp., to strengthen their cooperation with the tech sector.

However, at the Las Vegas exhibition, unlike auto companies mainly from Europe and the United States that exhibited their latest EVs, Japanese automakers chose to forgo participation, except for Honda’s joint venture. This could be viewed as reluctance on the part of Japanese makers to develop EVs utilizing tech.

There is also speculation that Apple Inc. will enter the EV market. Competition, including from makers in other industries, will certainly intensify in the future.

In order to increase sluggish domestic EV sales, the government must do its utmost to improve the environment through such measures as accelerating the installation of charging facilities, which has been slow in coming. Manufacturers should also focus further on the development of storage battery technology that directly affects competitiveness.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 9, 2023)