Electric vehicles may lack the “vrooming” engine sounds that have attracted many to become car fans over the years, but they can still be enjoyable to look at and fun to drive, according to automakers and tuning companies that gathered near Tokyo for a three-day event targeting Japanese car lovers.
Nissan Motor unveiled a sports car model of the Ariya, its electric sport utility vehicle, at the annual Tokyo Auto Salon on January 12.
The new model seeks to lure fans with its strong acceleration and stability, achieved by raising the peak output of the motor by 10% compared to the basic Ariya. It is also equipped with tires, wheels and other parts exclusively developed for sports car models, which produce smoother driving performance.
The three-day event showcased race cars and modified vehicles and is one of the largest custom car and car-related product exhibitions in the world. Over 370 automotive companies showed their products to 230,000 participants from January 12–14.
For fans drawn to conventional fossil fuel-powered cars for their unique features and as playgrounds for self-expression through customization, the charm of the EV, which relies on heavy batteries and thus faces technological constraints in design, is still largely a mystery. The automotive industry is trying to change that as it comes under increasing pressure to sell more battery-powered cars in the face of climate change.
At the event, Nissan showcased its electric racing car slated to compete in Formula E, a motorsport championship for electric cars. Car races act as a laboratory for automakers to refine their technology by competing under extreme conditions. Nissan is applying expertise obtained through participating in Formula E in its development of mass-produced EVs.
The upcoming race in March will be held in Japan for the first time. It will be an opportunity to appeal to Japanese car fans with the unique excitement of the new form of motorsports, which is “more sustainable” as it does not emit carbon, according to a Nissan engineer engaged in developing the race car.
“The focus of Formula E is not as much on how fast you can finish like in Formula One but is more strategic, because you only have a limited amount of power stored in the batteries,” he said.
The race can also take place in urban areas without much disturbance due to the absence of “vrooming” engine sounds. “I hope people will discover that the unique sounds motors make can also be quite exciting,” the engineer told Nikkei Asia at the company’s booth.
Hyundai Mobility Japan, the Japanese arm of South Korea’s Hyundai Motor, also appeared at the event for the first time with a sports car model of its flagship EV, the Ioniq 5, and a concept EV equipped with prototypes of tuning parts exclusively being developed to enhance the driving experience of high-performance EVs. The company uses lightweight automobile parts so drivers can control the wheels at will despite the weight of the batteries.
“By entering into the emerging EV market, we want to set the standard of performance EVs,” Joon Park, vice president of Hyundai’s N Brand Management Group, told reporters at the event on January 12. The company hopes to show “how we can enjoy tuning culture in our EVs,” he said.
“Tuning cars usually refers to hardware parts, but in the case of EVs, there’s more space to explore customization through developing auto software, as they’re more compatible,” a Hyundai staffer told Nikkei Asia.
Toyota Motor’s booth showcased a special sports car edition of the battery-powered RZ 450e developed under its Lexus luxury brand.
Autobacs Seven, a Japanese retailer of car parts and accessories, presented tuned versions of EVs by China’s BYD, South Korea’s Hyundai and Tesla of the US.
It was the first time the company had electric cars at its booth, the retailer’s spokesperson told Nikkei Asia. “Regardless of how the car is powered, the demand for making one’s cars original and personal will always be there. We wanted to show that we will respond to the EV shift and continue to satisfy those demands,” he said.