Using Big Data to speed up Japan’s slow electric car transition

By BLOOMBERG | 12 December 2023


TOKYO: Japan’s slow transition to electric cars has been blamed on the usual suspects - high prices, few models, limited charging infrastructure and range anxiety.

To help overcome some of those hurdles, gaming company DeNA Co. - which started a mobility division in 2015 and developed applications for car-sharing, self-driving and taxi dispatch services - has developed an EV simulation tool that can assess the lifespan and cruising range per charge of battery cars over time.

The web-based tool, called FACTEV, uses data from vehicle inspection certificates and periodic servicing information to analyze how a gas car is actually used.

By adding road characteristics (for example, highway versus city driving) and weather conditions (batteries drain faster in extreme heat or extreme cold), the simulator then selects a suitable EV alternative and provides data on practical performance.

For example, FACTEV shows that a Nissan LEAF electric car driven on the northern island of Hokkaido - home to the Sapporo Snow Festival - will get between 106 km and 212km per charge in its first year and will still go 99km to 198km per charge in five years.

The comparison vehicle - a gasoline-powered Nissan Note - covered an average 41.7km per trip, and a maximum of 100km.

DeNA has so far conducted a trial of the service with Japan’s four major car-leasing companies - Mitsubishi Auto Leasing Corp., Nippon Car Solutions Co., Orix Corp. and Sumitimo Mitsui Auto Service Co. - and aims to commercialise the service next year, including at dealerships.

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It takes more time and effort for a dealer to sell an EV compared to a gasoline car or hybrid because of buyer reluctance, said Kiyo Sako, group manager at DeNA’s EV Solutions Group.

Battery EVs accounted for just 2% of car sales in Japan last year, compared to 51% for ICE vehicles and 43% for hybrids, according to Bloomberg Intelligence.

"Dealers are doing business from hybrids and gasoline cars, so they don’t see the need to sell EVs, where they hear negative comments from customers regarding lack of charging infrastructure and subsidies,” Sako said.

DeNA has received positive reviews regarding its service from leasing companies, saying the data "proved to be a boosting factor to make a decision to purchase an EV,” she said.

FACTEV also has applications for the second-hand market.

Using the same driving data and harnessing artificial intelligence, the tool can predict the lifespan of an EV and its future driving range without requiring battery performance information, said Tooru Futami, a DeNA fellow in charge of developing the product.

Also, "leasing companies would want to use second-hand EVs for a long time, given their maintenance costs are less than gasoline cars,” Sako added.

Futami, who was involved in developing Nissan’s Leaf earlier in his career, said that developing a market for second-hand EVs is crucial to accelerating overall sales of electric cars in Japan.

He sees huge potential for used EVs if driver needs are known beforehand. An average driver covers around 50km a day, and second-hand EVs can run for at least around 100km per charge, he said.

"In Japan, consumers are inclined to buy cars worth ¥3 million (RM95,166) at maximum, so people don’t buy Teslas or Nissan’s Ariya, but prefer something like a Sakura,” Futami said, referring to Nissan’s pint-sized U$13,000 (RM61,000) EV that’s only available in Japan.

A well-established second-hand EV market with wider options of affordable battery cars and increased trade-in prices would encourage leasing companies to buy more new EVs, he said.

"EVs and their battery life have gotten better with time, but the old mindset hasn’t changed,” Futami said.

"From now, more solutions to assess EV health will surface.”

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