TOKYO — Chinese EV makers are going on the offensive in the commercial truck and bus market in Japan, led by a state-owned carmaker DFSK as well as private manufacturer BYD.
DFSK, a subsidiary of state-owned Dongfeng Motor, will supply 5,000 small trucks to Japan’s SBS, which will buy another 5,000 from other Chinese automakers. BYD, another Chinese electric carmaker, aims to offer buses at a 40% discount to its current price of 40 million yen ($354,120) in Japan.
The Chinese electric vehicle makers are filling a gap in the Japanese transport market where companies are trying to switch to greener versions to comply with the nation’s emissions targets. Japanese automakers, however, have not been able to move quickly enough to make all the vehicles the local market is demanding, raising worries that they will lose out to their Chinese rivals.
The first 1-ton electric trucks DFSK supplied to SBS were, in fact, designed by folofly, a Japanese EV startup, but manufactured by DFSK. SBS will purchase 1.5-ton trucks from another Chinese EV maker.
Excluding subsidies, each 1-ton electric vehicle will cost SBS 3.8 million yen, on a par with the price of a regular Japanese truck. This suggests that with subsidies, the Chinese versions will be cheaper.
These electric vehicles have a range of 300 kilometers and will be used for home delivery of goods. SBS hopes to start importing them in January.
Over the next five years, SBS will replace its fleet of 5,000 Japanese diesel trucks, including those used by partner companies, with the Chinese electric ones.
A listed company, SBS has a strong incentive to cut greenhouse gases emitted by its delivery vehicles, but Japanese manufacturers had yet to produce the small, 1-ton electric vehicles. SBS also estimated that such vehicles produced by Japanese companies could cost as much as 10 million yen each, substantially higher than the price it received from Chinese makers.
Japanese automakers are taking steps to develop electric trucks. In July, Suzuki Motor and Daihatsu Motor announced their participation in a Toyota-led project to develop an electric truck. But they may be too late to capture the boom in online shopping as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic that is driving the demand for these small delivery trucks.
Industry officials now warn that Chinese trucks, especially 1-ton models used for parcel deliveries, could sweep the Japanese market.
Other Japanese delivery companies are also switching to Chinese EVs. Sagawa Express, a unit of SG Holdings, agreed this spring to purchase 7,200 small EVs from Guangxi Automobile Group. It will begin to take delivery of the vehicles next year.
SG expects that making this change will result in a 10% fall in greenhouse gas emissions by its fleet from its 2019 level.