Nissan Motor Co. and Mitsubishi Motors Corp. have unveiled two new electric vehicles, betting consumers will embrace a battery-powered take on the beloved class of small, affordable Japanese cars.
Nissan Motor Co. and Mitsubishi Motors Corp. have unveiled two new electric mini-vehicles, betting consumers will embrace a battery-powered take on the beloved class of small, affordable Japanese cars.
The leaders of the two automakers on Friday took over the wraps of Nissan Sakura and Mitsubishi eK X EV, a major push into a less-served segment of the EV market that could help drive wider adoption. The two small, compact EVs will go on sale in Japan this summer for a starting price of less than $15,000.
Small and affordable ‘kei’ mini-vehicles are a popular mode of transport in Japan, especially among workers and families living outside the major cities, where roads are narrow and public transport is scarce. In 2020, they accounted for more than a third of new passenger car registrations in Japan.
“What Nissan and Mitsubishi are doing, that’s how it should be,” said Takeshi Miyao, an analyst at car consultancy Carnorama, referring to their automaker alliance, which includes Renault SA, and which has been under pressure in recent years. “This technology will be beneficial to the alliance.”
While the Japanese government is pushing for the country to have net-zero emissions by 2050, the kei car segment has been flagged as one that is particularly difficult to electrify. Industry officials have warned that adding batteries to boulder cars could push their prices beyond the reach of traditional buyers.
The cost of buying kei EVs should eventually fall to less than 1.5 million yen ($11,700), according to Miyao. The joint models of Nissan and Mitsubishi come pretty close. After subsidies, both cars start at about 1.8 million yen. While that’s on the expensive side for the category, Japanese automakers have increased prices in recent years as they’ve added more features and safety technology.
The vehicles developed by the joint venture of the car manufacturers NMKV Co. are equipped with small 20-kilowatt-hour batteries, giving them “enough range to meet everyday needs,” said Nissan Chief Executive Officer Makoto Uchida at an event in Okayama. “I hope that many customers will experience the benefits that electric vehicles can offer.”
Other automakers, including Honda Motor Co. and Daihatsu Motor Co, a part of Toyota Motor Corp., are planning to roll out their own electric mini models within the next few years, which could accelerate the relatively slow adoption of EVs in Japan.
Nissan and Mitsubishi are the first to leave the gate. The reception of their kei EVs will give an indication of how other automakers will fare in the age of the electric minicar, said Carnorama’s Miyao.