BYD launches Dolphin hatch to crack Japan’s tricky EV market

TOKYO: BYD Co. introduced its Dolphin electric car to Japan, betting that the compact hatch will help spearhead sales in a market that remains hesitant to embrace Chinese automakers and electric vehicles.

The Dolphin starts from ¥3.63 million (RM116,000), BYD Auto Japan Co. said today at a launch event here. The base model has a 70 kilowatt hour battery with 400km of range. The extended-range model costs ¥4 million (RM127,000). Its 150 kWh battery offers 476km per charge.

While BYD is China’s biggest carmaker and a frontrunner in the industry’s rapid transition to EVs, it has made little headway in Japan, where people prefer domestic powerhouses Toyota Motor Corp., Honda Motor Co. and Nissan Motor Co.

Imported cars, mostly luxury models from the likes of BMW AG and Volkswagen AG’s Porsche division, account for just 6% of the market, according to Bloomberg Intelligence senior auto analyst Tatsuo Yoshida.

BYD hopes to sell 1,100 units of the Dolphin in Japan by March 2024. In October, the Chinese maker plans to have a booth at the Japan Mobility Show, previously called the Tokyo Motor Show.

“We’re taking it one step at a time,” BYD Japan president Atsuki Tofukuji told reporters today. “We’re making progress in building our customer base.”

BYD has delivered only about 700 of its Atto 3 electric sport-utility vehicles in Japan since sales started in January. The SUV is priced from ¥4.4 million (RM140,000), but has struggled to compete with Nissan’s electric LEAF, which starts from around ¥4.1 million (RM131,000). Nissan’s mini Sakura, at just over ¥2.5 million (RM80,000), is Japan’s top-selling EV.

In Japan, hybrids also remain far more popular than pure battery EVs, with market leader Toyota notoriously slow to shift to EVs.

BYD plans to open 100 dealerships and showrooms by 2025 in Japan, and aims to launch its Seal sedan in the country early next year.

Pushing into Japan — the world’s third-largest auto market — also gives BYD a new growth opportunity as Chinese carmakers face increasing hostility in Europe and the US.

The European Union has launched an investigation into Chinese subsidies for EVs in an attempt to ward off cheap imports that it fears are a threat to the future of the bloc’s own automakers.

While BYD has pushed into South-East Asia, South America and Australia, it has stayed out of the US, where President Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act doles out tax credits of as much as US$7,500 (RM36,000) towards consumer purchases of EVs — but only if they’re manufactured in North America.

“This is a chance for BYD to capitalise on an untapped, niche market,” said Takeshi Miyao, an analyst at automotive consultancy Carnorama. The Dolphin should sell well in Japan because the quality of BYD’s cars has been steadily improving, and Japanese customers aren’t as biased against Chinese products as they used to be, he said.

In Japan, the Dolphin will use the CHAdeMO charging system developed in 2010 by five companies including Toyota and Tokyo Electric Power Co. Vehicles fitted for this charger have become a minority, with the charging systems of BYD and Elon Musk’s Tesla Inc. now the de-facto standard in major markets.
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