Chinese cars are heading to Japan for the first time in memory – and electric-car brand BYD is leading the charge, with three models also slated to eventually reach Australia.
By Alex Misoyannis, drive.com.au
Electric-car specialist BYD is believed to be the first ever mass-market Chinese automaker to enter the Japanese market – offering a range of small and mid-size cars. While Chinese cars are becoming increasingly popular in Australia – with MG, Great Wall Motors, Haval and LDV among the country’s fastest-growing brands – they are few and far between in Japan, limited largely to the ultra-exclusive and extremely niche Hongqi luxury limousine, and a few vans from Geely.
Emerging electric vehicle (EV) maker Build Your Dreams (BYD) is looking to change that, announcing plans to enter Japan with three new models next year: the Atto 3 small SUV, Dolphin hatch, and Seal sedan.
BYD has sold battery packs, electric buses, forklifts in Japan since as early as 1999 – but it’s the first time it has sold passenger cars in the country. The Chinese electric car brand’s launch in Japan next year will come months after its full-scale arrival in Australia and New Zealand, starting with the BYD Atto 3 – due in a network of showrooms from August, priced from $44,381 plus on-road costs.
Based on previous statements from BYD’s Australian importer, EVDirect, local orders for two more models are due to open “by December 2022” – expected to be the BYD Dolphin and BYD Seal, badged under the Atto brand (likely Atto 2 and Atto 4).
The BYD Atto 3 is due to be the first of the company’s vehicles to launch in Japan, in January 2023, followed by the Dolphin (without Atto badging) in mid 2023, and the Seal in the second half of next year.
Japan is a notoriously difficult market for foreign brands to gain traction, and customer acceptance. Of the 4.4 million cars sold in Japan last year, only about 340,000 (or less than eight per cent) were imported – a figure that, if all imported vehicles were sold under one brand, would only rank sixth on the best sellers list.
In contrast – when hybrids and plug-in hybrids are excluded, areas in which Toyota and other Japanese brands dominate – about 40 percent of battery-electric car sales in Japan come from brands other than Toyota, Nissan, Mazda, Mitsubishi or Honda.
That’s a result of sprawling EV line-ups from European brands – including Mercedes-Benz, BMW and VW, which were Japan’s 11th, 13th and 14th best-selling brands in 2021 – contrasted with most Japanese car makers’ hesitancy towards fully-electric vehicles.
Car giant Toyota – which accounted for one in three cars sold in its home market last year – only launched its first mass-produced global electric car in Japan a few months ago, while Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan and Honda offer no more than one or two full EVs each.
It is worth noting that Nissan owns a majority of Japan’s fully-electric car market, thanks to the popularity of its Leaf small car.
“Over the years, BYD has been deeply engaged in the Japanese market and has accumulated a good market and brand foundation through its pure electric buses, energy storage systems, pure electric forklifts and other businesses. Today … BYD officially hits the new energy passenger vehicle market in Japan,” said BYD Chairman and President, Wang Chuanfu.
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