Author: Wu Ziye

  The impact of the epidemic and chip shortages still hangs over the Japanese auto industry.

  "Due to semiconductor shortages and the impact of the epidemic, Japan's auto supply chain has been disrupted. As of June 16, Japan has lost 800,000 vehicles." Recently, IHS light vehicle production analyst Yoshiaki Kawano told reporter The lost production is not expected to be fully recovered anytime soon, as semiconductor shortages will continue until mid-2023, the company said.

In addition, Japanese automakers will lose some of their chances of recovery due to sharply weaker demand amid inflationary pressures from the situation in Ukraine.

  Japan is the world's automotive powerhouse, and brands such as Toyota, Honda, and Nissan are world-renowned.

Japan is also the world's largest auto exporter and plays a pivotal role in the global auto industry.

"I think the Japanese auto industry is the left half of the world's car brain and dominates the supply of the vast majority of the right steering wheel market. Japan is an indispensable country for auto exports." Fan Zhiyuan, sales director of Japan Auto Export Corporation, told reporters.

  In Japan, local brands occupy more than 90% of the market share, which is why it is called "the forbidden land for imported cars".

However, in the past few years, the global wave of new energy vehicle technology revolution is in full swing. Although Japanese car companies have deep accumulation and leading advantages in the field of hybrid vehicles, their pace in the field of pure electric vehicles is slow.

In addition, with the advent of the era of new energy vehicles, the closed Japanese auto market has also ushered in ice-breaking opportunities.

  Imported cars "forbidden"

  "At present, the domestic sales market in Japan is facing severe contraction due to supply chain problems and chip shortages. With the recovery of the automotive supply chain such as chip shortages, the Japanese auto market will rebound in the short term, and sales are expected to reach about 4.7 million units in 2025 (2021). Annual sales are about 4.4 million units) However, considering factors such as an aging population, a longer vehicle replacement life cycle, and lower economic growth, the Japanese auto market will show a gradual downward trend in the long run." Yoshiaki Kawano told Reporters said Japanese automakers are expected to rethink their supply chains to make them simpler and more compact in the future.

  According to the report "Characteristics of the Japanese Vehicle Market" recently released by the Korea Automobile Research Institute, the size of the Japanese vehicle market has shown a shrinking trend after reaching the highest point in the 1990s.

In 2021, the total sales of new vehicles in Japan will reach 4.45 million units, ranking third in the global auto market.

An aging population, declining residents' income, rising public transportation usage, and domestic automakers' market strategy focusing on exports are the main reasons for the decline in domestic auto sales in Japan.

  The Japanese auto market is mainly occupied by local auto brands and is divided into three echelons.

The first echelon is Toyota, which ranks first in market share all year round, accounting for about 30% to 35% of the market share. Toyota has a huge customer base and relatively stable demand.

The second-tier brands include Daihatsu, Suzuki, Nissan and Honda. Among them, Daihatsu is a mini-car giant, followed by Suzuki, with a market share of between 12% and 15%.

Overall, the sales of car brands in the second echelon are comparable.

Mitsubishi, Mazda and Subaru are in the third tier, each with a market share of about 2% to 4%.

  Unlike the Chinese market, which favors larger cars, Japanese cars sell very well for miniature cars.

In Japan, models with a length of no more than 3400 mm, a width of no more than 1480 mm, a height of no more than 2000 mm, a displacement of less than 660cc, and a maximum power of less than 47kW are called mini cars.

Mini-cars enjoy preferential policies in Japan, including lower purchase tax, and license plates that do not require a parking certificate.

Japanese consumers pay more attention to the economy of the car when buying a car. Compared with the high-end functional configuration, Japanese consumers are more inclined to buy safety-related configurations.

Kawano Yoshiaki told reporters that in the entire automobile market, miniature cars account for about 37% of the market share, and miniature cars priced between $10,000 and $15,000 are the most popular.

Among them, the Honda N-box was the best-selling model, and the Toyota Yaris was almost equally ranked first.

  Japan's imported car market share is less than 10%, mainly occupied by German cars, including Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW.

American car brands and other European brands have little presence in the Japanese market.

  "There are many local brands in Japan, and the competition is very fierce. Some traditional foreign brands have withdrawn from the market many years ago. Among them, Ford has completely faded out of the market. The difficulty for foreign brands to enter the Japanese market is mainly because they have not formed obvious differences with local brands. For For Japanese car consumers who are not high-end brands, they have very demanding needs in terms of fuel economy, environmental protection, product quality and after-sales service. For imported brands, they want something different from domestic products, not high-end ones. It may be difficult for imported brands to form significant differences with local brands. In addition, Japan does not impose import tariffs on imported vehicles, so tax issues are not the reason." Kawano Yoshiaki told reporters.

  "Not only car products, but Japanese people have a favorable impression of many local things, including agricultural products, meat products, etc. Although these local products are expensive, their quality is guaranteed. Except for high-end products and luxury goods, imported products are difficult for Japanese people to see. Therefore, among the imported car brands, only Mercedes-Benz and BMW are doing well in the Japanese market." Fan Zhiyuan, sales director of Japan Automobile Export Corporation, told reporters.

  In addition, Japan's used car market is relatively developed.

The reporter learned in the interview that the annual sales volume of the used car market is about 1.6 times that of the new car market.

"Affected by the epidemic and the shortage of chips, the production of new cars has been suspended on a large scale, and the supply is in short supply, which has caused the price of used cars to rise. Since the demand for used cars has not decreased, our main used car business has not suffered much loss due to the epidemic." Fan Zhiyuan told reporters.

  In the opinion of Yoshiaki Kawano, used cars in Japan are generally in good condition, with less body damage and clean interiors. The export demand for used cars in Japan is large, so prices are relatively stable.

Since the epidemic, the overall supply of the auto industry has been tight, and local auto brands with poor sales in the past have also begun to fall short of demand.

Inadequate supply in the new car market in the short term has also exacerbated Japan's hot used car market, which has driven some consumers to the used car market due to longer delivery times for new cars.

  Electric vehicles are falling behind

  Similar to countries such as Europe and the United States, the Japanese government plans to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

In the automotive field, the Japanese government has proposed an xEV strategy for 2050. In the future, it will sell four types of vehicles, including BEV (pure electric), PHEV (plug-in hybrid), HEV (gas-electric hybrid), and FCEV (hydrogen fuel cell). class of electric vehicles.

  "Japan's new energy vehicle market share (the above four types of electric vehicles) accounts for nearly 30%, but the market share of pure electric vehicles is less than 1%." Kawano Yoshiaki told reporters.

Although the Japanese auto industry giants such as Toyota and Honda are world-renowned, their position in the auto market is hard to shake.

But in the age of electric cars, Japanese car brands seem to be a tad slower.

In the field of pure electric vehicles, Tesla has taken the initiative, and European car brands such as Volkswagen are also undergoing radical transformation.

  Tesla has entered the Japanese market, where it sold more than 5,200 electric vehicles in 2021, up from about 1,900 vehicles in 2020.

Although the absolute sales figures are not high, Tesla still has caused the vigilance of Japanese car companies and industry observers.

"According to our observation, some young people in Japan regard buying Tesla as a fashion, and this trend is expanding." The Nikkei said in a report.

Data shows that the global sales of pure electric vehicles will reach 4.6 million in 2021, an increase of 2.2 times that of 2020, surpassing the hybrid vehicles that Japanese car companies are better at for the first time.

  In the field of pure electric vehicles, although Japanese car companies have plans, the pace of product launch in Japan and the global market is relatively slow.

For a long time, Japanese car companies have dominated the gasoline-electric hybrid vehicle market, but they have not yet made a noise in the pure electric vehicle market.

Arthur D. Little, a consulting firm, estimates that if 90 percent of cars sold in Japan become pure electric vehicles by 2050, 84,000 people will lose their jobs, accounting for 80 percent of jobs related to auto parts. 12%.

  According to foreign media reports, recently, Toyota launched its first mass-produced pure electric vehicle bZ4X SUV in Japan, which is only for rental use.

The company says this strategy will help ease motorists' concerns about battery life and resale value.

CLSA analyst Christopher Richter believes that despite the low acceptance of electric vehicles in the Japanese market, that will change and Toyota could lose market share by focusing on leasing rather than buying.

  In terms of electrification strategy, the Japanese government is still more inclined to hybrid vehicles.

“The Japanese government is looking for better hybrid electric vehicles. Hybrid vehicles are already very popular in Japan, but the energy for power generation is still mainly dependent on coal and natural gas, and the price of pure electric vehicles is much higher than that of hybrid vehicles. Therefore, pure electric vehicles Not the best solution at least for now and may take a while to gain traction with consumers. Until more renewable electricity is available, Japan is trying to achieve a higher HEV market with the goal of improving fuel economy overall share, gradually replacing old cars with new HEVs instead of switching to higher-priced pure electric vehicles as in Europe. If Europe can source a lower cost energy mix, such as using offshore/onshore wind, solar, hydro, geothermal, Bio-energy, etc., it may be feasible, but not in Japan." Yoshiaki Kawano told reporters that Japan is trying to promote electrification, first to develop hybrid vehicles, and then to promote plug-in hybrid vehicles (maybe only a few selected of OEMs can do it), while pure electric vehicles and fuel cell vehicles are moving towards net-zero emissions.

  The advent of the era of new energy vehicles has also given opportunities for imported car brands.

After 12 years out of the Japanese market, Hyundai Motor is preparing to re-enter the Japanese market with pure electric vehicles and fuel cell vehicles.

Hyundai Motor plans to pre-sell the electric car Aini Krypton 5 and the hydrogen energy car NEXO in Japan from May this year, and deliver them successively from July.

The above report shows that the structure of the Japanese auto market will not change significantly in the short term, and overseas auto manufacturers should focus on exploring the electric vehicle market with economy as their main marketing strategy.

  "Imported brands have seen some opportunities in the Japanese auto market. Opel is also trying to re-enter the market, but due to the epidemic and supply chain issues, the re-entry time is a bit delayed. FAW Hongqi has already entered Japan and will bring more products in the near future. It is expected that Polestar will also be stationed in the future, BYD has already entered the commercial bus, and it is expected that passenger cars will also enter the Japanese market soon, and may open the Japanese market through the taxi fleet." Yoshiaki Kawano told reporters that if a brand wants to There should be opportunities in the future to introduce different, new or high-tech products from overseas and are environmentally conscious at the same time.

Fan Zhiyuan believes that new energy vehicles are the only opportunity for Chinese car companies to enter the Japanese market. Major car companies led by Toyota are also secretly studying electric vehicles, and it is estimated that they will catch up.