The world’s first electric car dealership from Mercedes-Benz lies between unattractive houses in a landscape of shades of grey. Yokohama is nicer elsewhere, but here you get a good look at the rough reality of Japanese traffic. The two-story highway “Route K1” and a level highway runs in front of the shop window. In the rushing stream you can see that hardly anyone in Japan drives completely emission-free. And when you ask senior product manager Asami Ueno whether her employer in Stuttgart has enough charging stations for its e-services in the island state, she says openly and in German: “No, there are still problems.”
Japan is a little strange with the big change from combustion to charging vehicles, which should contribute to better climate protection. But the proud car nation is just now realizing that it cannot stop the development. Because not only Mercedes is pushing into the country with its electric cars. Many European manufacturers do that. From 2035 onwards, the EU will ban the sale of new cars with petrol or diesel engines – sooner or later their exhaustless products will also have to run in Japan.
From 2035 onwards, new cars with pure combustion engines will also be banned in Japan
The newspaper Asahi reports that Porsche opened two branches in Tokyo in 2022 as a stage for its electric models. The Swedish carmaker Volvo is also planning to no longer sell its e-achievements only online. Otherwise, the impression is created that the industry wants to gently push Japanese drivers towards the socket. Tesla, the world’s largest electric car maker from the US, began offering test drives in Tokyo in 2022. South Korea’s Hyundai returned after a 13-year hiatus from Japan with a strategy fully EV-centric.
But EVs are still rare in Japan. In 2022 they accounted for less than two percent of all cars sold. “Without a small car, it’s only 1.4 percent,” says Asami Ueno. In Japan, it is primarily hybrid cars that soothe the green conscience, i.e. vehicles that have an electric motor and a petrol engine. These will remain allowed even if Japan bans the sale of new gasoline and diesel cars in 2035.
Japanese companies are pioneers in hybrid technology, Toyota is hybrid world champion in terms of sales figures. This is probably one of the reasons why Japan has fewer charging stations than the leading EV regions of China, Europe, the USA and South Korea. And those few stations don’t even follow US, European, or South Korean technology standards. “The shape of the connector is totally different,” explains Asami Ueno. That doesn’t make it any easier to carry the electric trend to Japan.
But it’s not as if Japan doesn’t want to hear about it either. The government provides financial support for e-car purchases. If you buy a rechargeable Mercedes in Yokohama, you can get it a little cheaper thanks to subsidies from Kanagawa Prefecture. And at Toyota, a meaningful leadership change is imminent. The founder’s grandson Akio Toyoda, 66, is handing over management to his younger manager colleague Koji Sato, 53, on April 1 after 14 years. Reason: Toyota does not want to be overtaken by foreign electric cars without a fight.