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BYD launches Dolphin EV in Japan to pry open market dominated by local heavyweights Toyota, Honda and Nissan

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BYD launches Dolphin EV in Japan to pry open market dominated by local heavyweights Toyota, Honda and Nissan

BYD introduced its Dolphin electric vehicle to Japan, betting that the compact hatch will help spearhead sales in a market that remains hesitant to embrace Chinese carmakers or EVs.

The Dolphin will start from 3.63 million yen (US$24,560), BYD Auto Japan announced on Wednesday at a launch event in Tokyo. The base model has a 70 kilowatt hour battery offering 400km of range. The extended-range model is priced at 4 million yen, with the 150 kWh battery giving 476km per charge.

While BYD is China’s biggest carmaker and a front runner in the global industry’s rapid transition to EVs, it has made little headway in Japan, where people prefer to buy cars from domestic powerhouses Toyota Motor, Honda Motor and Nissan Motor. Imported cars, mostly luxury models from the likes of BMW and Volkswagen’s Porsche division, account for just 6 per cent of the market, according to Bloomberg Intelligence senior car analyst Tatsuo Yoshida.

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

Visitors view a BYD Dolphin EV at the 44th Bangkok International Motor Show in Bangkok, Thailand, on March 23, 2023. Photo: Reuters

In Japan, hybrids also remain far more popular than pure battery electric vehicles, 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 car market – also gives BYD a new growth opportunity as Chinese carmakers face increasing hostility in Europe and the US.

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Last week, the European Union launched an investigation into Chinese subsidies for EVs in an attempt to ward off cheap imports that threaten the future of the bloc’s own carmakers.

BYD, Li Auto break sales records again as pent-up demand benefits top marques

And while BYD has pushed into Southeast 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 towards consumer purchases of EVs – but only if they are 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 are not 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. Vehicles fitted for this charger have become a minority, with the charging systems of BYD and Elon Musk’s Tesla now the de facto standard in major markets.

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