Who can win Japanese electric cars?


In October, the electric vehicles of the three Japanese giants Toyota, Honda, and Nissan—bZ4X, e:N series (Dongfeng Honda e:NS1, GAC Honda e:NP1), and Aria finally assembled in the Chinese market.


  These cars have similar status and significance. Although they are not their first pure electric products, they are all important ones in history.


  bZ4X is the pioneering work of Toyota's bZ pure electric exclusive series, the e:N series is the first model of Honda pure electric brand e:N, and Aria is the flagship electric product that integrates Nissan's latest electrification technology.


  In a sense, these products are the answers given by Toyota, Honda, and Nissan in the electrification exam, and the quality of the products directly reflects their learning outcomes.


  But as a result, they did not do well on this test.


  The Honda e:N series, which was launched in April, has maintained three-digit monthly sales since its launch. In order to attract consumers, promotions such as “10,000 to 30,000” and “2,000 to 22,000” were launched to try to exchange price for volume. Toyota's bZ4X and Nissan's Ariel have just been scolded by the market, especially the starting price of Ariel's as high as 272,800 yuan, which makes consumers call "cut leeks".


  It has been more than 10 years since the new energy transformation of the automobile industry started. New car-making forces such as Tesla and Wei Xiaoli are the protagonists of this round of change. The fuel car companies are a few steps slower, but they are also catching up. Volkswagen and BBA both put down their posture and started to get electrocuted, but the Japanese car, the other dominant player in the fuel era, has always had a weak sense of existence.


  Previously, everyone could find many reasons for the stalling of new energy in Japanese car companies, such as the fact that they have not fully exerted their power, and the earlier oil-to-electricity products were just testing the water, etc. A more representative pure electric product came to the market, and the last fig leaf for the electrification transformation of Japanese cars was also torn off.


  How can a Japanese brand that has conquered countless consumers not be able to handle electric cars?


  Japanese electric vehicles can't learn new forces


  According to the industry's expectations for the electrification transformation of fuel brands, bZ4X, e:N series, and Aria actually meet the basic requirements.


  For example, they all use a real pure electric platform instead of an oil-to-electric model. The battery life is not outstanding, but it basically meets the travel needs. The assisted driving system can also be found on these cars. These Japanese cars have assembled the key elements of current smart electric vehicles, but why are they still not selling well?


  Some say it's too expensive. Expensive indeed. The compact SUV Dongfeng Nissan Arrow sells for 272,800-342,800 yuan. At this price, consumers can buy Tesla Model Y, Wenjie M5/M7, Xiaopeng G9, and Ideal L7, all of which are A mid-sized or mid-sized SUV, the overall size is larger and more spacious than the Arielle. The bZ4X and e:N series are relatively cheap, but there are many other options at the same price point.


  However, expensive is only one of the reasons. Not understanding what the current consumers need is the biggest problem with Japanese electric vehicles.


  New energy vehicles have entered the stage of extreme involution, and long battery life is the basic operation. Intelligent overweight and full configuration are the focus of everyone's competition, but these are not available on bZ4X, e:N series, and Aria.

 Let’s talk about intelligence first. All three cars are equipped with intelligent driving systems, but the achievable functions are much worse than those of mainstream products. The assisted driving of the bZ4X stays at the level of lane departure warning and lane tracking assistance. Aria is better, providing functions such as S-ALC one-button intelligent lane change assistance, FAP dual-mode intelligent parking, etc., but these are also entry level.


  Tesla, on the other hand, has already introduced the high-speed NOA navigation assisted driving system to users three years ago, and Xiaopeng has progressed from high-speed NGP to urban NGP, realizing functions such as autonomous lane change, overtaking, and entry and exit of highway ramps.


  In terms of intelligent hardware, the bZ4X, e:N series, and Aria are not equipped with lidars, nor are they even equipped with the 8155 chip that is almost standard for new energy vehicles. Among them, Aria uses Mobileye's Q4 chip, which is the hardware only equipped with previous-generation products such as NIO's old 866 models and Ideal ONE.


  Of course, not all new energy vehicle products are attacking assisted driving, and there are many models that are cost-effective. The price/performance ratio mentioned here does not mean how low the price is, but whether the product configuration is worth the price.


  "The biggest feature of Japanese cars is the balance of moderation, and the overall cost-effectiveness is very high, but these cars perform too much." Xiao Lin, owner of Asian Dragon, is a firm fan of Japanese cars, but after seeing these blockbuster new cars , I have to admit that Japanese electric vehicles are not even cost-effective. "Other new forces are standard equipment for all systems, and different versions are only distinguished in terms of battery life and intelligence, but Japanese electric vehicles still add and delete ordinary. Configuration, play the set of the era of fuel vehicles."


  Taking GAC Toyota bZ4X as an example, the entry-level Elite version costing 199,800 yuan has only an 8-inch central control screen, the steering wheel is made of plastic, the seats are not leather, and there is no ventilation heating/electric adjustment function; the long-life Elite version of 229,800 yuan is eligible for optional equipment. A 12.3-inch screen, heated and electrically adjustable seats, a leather steering wheel, and more; these are standard on the other three more expensive versions.


  In comparison, the 2022 Leaprun C11 of the same level is standard for the entire system, and different versions only differ in terms of battery and 100-kilometer acceleration. Similar problems have also appeared in the Nissan Aria and Honda e:N series.


  In terms of cost-effectiveness, Japanese brands have long been unable to compete with the new car-making forces, and the feedback from the channel terminals also supports this.


  According to the retail data of the Federation of Passenger Transport Associations, from May to August this year, the monthly sales of the Honda e:N series in China have been maintained at a triple-digit level, with only 110 units sold in the least one month. The bZ4X and Ariya, which have just been launched and have not yet ushered in a full sales month, have already reduced their prices. Among them, the official price of the GAC Toyota bZ4X is 20,000 yuan lower than the previous pre-sale price, and the Dongfeng Nissan Ariya terminal is discounted by 20,000 to 30,000 yuan.


  Can't build a tram, what's the problem?


  Groups such as Volkswagen and GM initially seemed powerless when they were transforming into electrification, but now they are starting to get better. Taking Volkswagen as an example, from June to August this year, the monthly sales of new energy models of North and South Volkswagen exceeded 10,000, of which the ID. series were the main ones.


  It is also a giant car company. Why do Toyota, Honda, and Nissan still produce "outdated" products in 2022?


  "The reasons why Toyota, Honda, and Nissan can't make good electric cars are completely different from those of Volkswagen and BBA. The latter are slow to transform and fail to find the right direction, while the former simply have no idea whether to make electric cars." From a car company Industry insider Yu Wen told Shentu that traditional car companies have money, resources and talents. If they pursue new technologies, they will not fall behind too much even if the transformation is slow. The reason why Japanese brands are like this is simply because they are unwilling. They want to take a few more years of fuel vehicle dividends, but on the other hand, they are betting on hydrogen energy and hybrid, not pure electricity.”


  In fact, Japanese brands started electric vehicles very early. In 1947, Nissan launched the first electric vehicle TAMA EV. Later, due to the oil crisis, the Japanese government was determined to accelerate the development of electric vehicles. In 1993, Honda launched the EV-X at the Tokyo Motor Show. Mitsubishi's i-MiEV and Nissan's LEAF entered the market in 2009 and 2010, respectively. In 2012, Toyota also cooperated with Tesla to develop the RAV4. EV.

According to the development of the story, Japanese cars should now be the leaders of the electric car track, but the reality is that Japanese car companies have not yet had a best-selling pure electric model.


  There are various factors behind this, such as the immature infrastructure related to electric vehicles in the early years, the low acceptance of electric vehicles by consumers, the high electricity bills after the denuclearization of Japan’s electricity, the lack of electrification in the global market, and the rapid oil crisis. resolve etc. For various reasons, Japan finally shelved the promotion of electric vehicles. In 2010, Japan released the "Next Generation Vehicle R&D Strategy", which shifted from focusing on pure electric vehicles in the past to developing hydrogen fuel cell vehicles at the same time.


  Toyota, in particular, is quite optimistic about the future of hydrogen energy. In 2014, Toyota released the Mirai, the world's first mass-produced hydrogen fuel cell sedan, and five years later, it released the second-generation Mirai model based on the TNGA architecture. However, due to the high production cost and complex technology of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, no phased progress has been made until now. According to public data, since 2014, Toyota Mirai has sold about 20,000 units globally.


  On the one hand, it is engaged in hydrogen fuel, and on the other hand, Japanese cars accelerate the research and development of hybrid technology. Honda's i-MMD system, Toyota's THS technology and Nissan's e-POWER system are all dominant in the hybrid circle. According to public data, Toyota's global sales of dual-engine hybrid models have exceeded 20 million units.


  In the past few years, Japanese cars have accumulated a deep technical moat in the past few years when they rushed to run hybrid and hydrogen energy technologies. According to a report by Nikkei Asia, Japan ranks first in the world in terms of fuel cell patents.


  However, which technical route to adopt in the global new energy transformation cannot be determined by individual car companies alone. China, the United States, and Europe have all selected electric vehicles at the policy level to promote the global electrification transformation.


  That is to say, Japanese cars are not without new energy vehicles, but the wrong skill points.


  Japanese car companies have also tried to keep up with the trend of electric vehicles. In 2018, Nissan launched Sylphy Pure Electric. In 2019, Honda and Toyota launched pure electric models VE-1 (belonging to the concept brand of GAC Honda) and iA5 (using GAC Trumpchi logo). However, these "oil-to-electricity" models failed to make a splash, and Toyota, Honda, and Nissan did not continue to work hard to launch more products.


  On the one hand, it is the hybrid and hydrogen fuel technology route that has mastered absolute technical advantages, and on the other hand, it is the pure electric technology that needs to be restarted.


  Are there still dramas for Japanese electric cars?


  Today, new energy vehicles have become a recognized direction in the global automotive industry. More and more consumers are accepting pure electric vehicles, and car companies have also imposed bans on combustion. The fastest BYD has stopped selling fuel vehicles. Driven by global consumer trends, Japanese cars cannot escape this wave of electrification.


  Since last year, Toyota, Honda, and Nissan have begun to accelerate their transformation and have launched relevant plans and layouts.


  At the end of 2021, Nissan released the Nissan Ambition 2030 (Nissan Ambition 2030) in Yokohama, Japan. It plans to invest 2 trillion yen in the next five years to accelerate the layout of electric drive products and technological innovation, and plans to launch 15 pure electric models by 2030. model.


  Then, Toyota announced plans to invest 4 trillion yen in the development of pure electric technologies and products in the next 10 years, to launch 30 pure electric models in 2030, and to convert the Lexus brand to a pure electric brand. Two series of product lines, BZ and Lifestyle, will be formed.


  In April of this year, Honda also released a rather radical electrification strategy, announcing that it will invest 5 trillion yen in electrification and software technology in the next 10 years, and plans to launch 30 pure electric vehicles globally by 2030. The annual output exceeds 2 million.

 With such a big deal, can Japanese cars catch up with the trend of electrification?


  The answer is hard to say.


  In Yu Wen's view, it is difficult but not a big problem for Toyota, Honda, and Nissan to catch up with new car companies. However, the key point now is that although Japanese cars have shown their all-out attitude, their actual attitude is still very negative.


  Taking Honda as an example, a large part of the investment in the electrification strategy released by Honda is for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (HFCV) and hybrid vehicles. It is expected that the latter two will account for about 60% of Honda's global sales by 2030. .


  Although Nissan has clearly abandoned the development of fuel cells, it is also conservative with regard to electric vehicles. The 2030 Vision plans that by 2030, the sales of pure electric and E-POWER models will only account for 50% of the total.


  As for Toyota, its CEO Akio Toyoda is still pouring cold water on electric cars.


  Focusing on the news that California will ban the sale of fuel vehicles in 2035, Akio Toyoda publicly stated that it is difficult to achieve the goal of electric vehicles like California, and not enough people want a pure electric vehicle. At the same time, he also said that Toyota has no plans to rush out a lineup of pure electric vehicles like some rivals, and suggested not to restrict people from buying different types of vehicles.


  "Toyota is going to take the low-cost electrification route in China. The three-electric system is purchased from other car companies, and it is completed by itself." Zhang Xiao, a source close to Toyota, told Shentu that this sounds like a bad thing, but from the cost Looks very affordable and simple.


  A strong evidence is that Toyota established an electric vehicle joint venture with BYD as early as March 2020. Toyota's new-generation electric car, the bZ5, looks like a BYD seal on the outside and uses a blade battery inside, which is called "OEM BYD".


  Whether Toyota's "sloppy route" can be accepted by consumers is still unknown, but the consequences of negatively treating electrification have begun to emerge. Data from the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers shows that from January to August this year, the market share of Japanese cars in China has dropped to 19.5%.


  On the whole, different from the firm electrification transformation of other car companies, whether Toyota, Honda or Nissan, did not show the determination of All in in electrification, but tried to lie in the fuel car and hybrid car. It will take time to test whether this kind of behavior can last long, but more and more people believe that Japanese cars are taking the old road of Nokia.


  In 2014, Microsoft announced that the acquisition of Nokia was officially completed. Nokia CEO Jooma Ollila said at a press conference - "We didn't do anything wrong, but I don't know why we lost."


  *The title image is from pexels . At the request of the interviewee, Xiao Lin, Yu Wen, and Zhang Xiao are pseudonyms in the text.

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