Chinese automaker BYD began selling electric vehicles in Japan on Tuesday as it pursues its global ambitions to overtake more established nameplates.
BYD’s debut in the world’s fourth largest auto market comes with it having secured its place as China’s top EV seller and nipping at the heels of American EV giant Tesla in global EV sales.
BYD also sells electric vehicles in Australia and Thailand, and has production plants in South America.
“We’re very excited to be bringing our cars to Japanese customers,” said Atsuki Tofukuji, president of BYD Auto Japan, a marketing subsidiary. Tofukuji talked to reporters at BYD’s first Japanese sales location, due to open on Thursday in Yokohama, the big port city south of Tokyo.
While the Chinese automaker is gaining fame as an EV battery seller, its car sales remain largely dependent on domestic demand. This puts it considerably behind Elon Musk’s top-running Tesla, which has penetrated many more global markets.
BYD has been eager to close the gap and recently began exporting to India, home to a fledgling EV market, and to Thailand, where it plans its first ASEAN production hub.
BYD is entering Japan with a key strength against Tesla, affordability, backed by its roots as a battery maker. The company’s flagship Atto 3 midsize SUV, which today went on sale in Japan, goes for JPY 4.4 million (USD 33,800), cheaper than Tesla and Nissan EVs. Government EV subsidies, if they continue, will lower the price.
Deliveries are to begin around March.
The Yokohama store is also “a good way to present new brands to Japanese customers” as they can actually familiarize themselves with EVs and consult professional dealers about purchases on the spot, Tofukuji said.
It is the first of over 20 showrooms that BYD plans to establish across Japan this year. The company aspires to have over 100 dealerships in the country by the end of 2025.
This contrasts with Tesla, which largely relies on internet sales.
BYD’s showroom in Yokohama only has the Atto 3 on display but later this year will exhibit two additional models. Visitors can also take the SUV out for test drives, and the store is already receiving a “fair amount” of reservations.
Each BYD dealer in Japan will be equipped with 50-kilowatt quick chargers that can juice up the Atto 3 in about 60 minutes.
Japan’s EV market has been expanding, though notably slower than other countries. Domestic EV sales in 2022 came to about 59,000 units, a record almost triple the previous year’s total, according to industry groups. They accounted for 1.7% of Japan’s passenger car market, surpassing 1% for the first time.
But most of the growth is due to vehicles that fall into the kei car category. These microcars are considered to be easy to drive around crowded cities and require relatively low maintenance. And since they need little power, their makers have been able to more easily transition to electric drivetrains.
The rest of the industry faces a relatively large obstacle: Many chargers in the country operate on such low power that it takes hours to sufficiently juice up a regular EV.
BYD’s strategy is to “introduce products that fit each country’s charging environment,” Tofukuji said, “unlike Tesla, which distributes chargers exclusive to its models.”
Despite Japan’s slowly developing EV market, BYD faces a raft of competitors. Foreign luxury brands like Mercedes-Benz, Tesla and Audi are eager to take big shares of the young market. And although Japan’s storied auto industry is filled with EV laggards, those dawdlers are moving to catch up. Toyota recently named a new president and CEO, tasking the relatively young executive with adapting to today’s industry trends.
“The Japanese EV market overall is getting bigger, and this is a good time to be entering [the competition],” Tofukuji said. “We hope to provide a rich EV life along with the development of Japan’s EV environment.”
This article first appeared on Nikkei Asia. It has been republished here as part of 36Kr’s ongoing partnership with Nikkei.