January 9, 2018

YOUR NEXT CAR WILL BE A VOLT:

As Electric Cars' Prospects Brighten, Japan Fears Being Left Behind (JONATHAN SOBLE, JAN. 9, 2018, NY Times)

Japan is scrambling to ensure it has a future in an electric-car world. Toyota, the country's largest automaker, pioneered gasoline-electric hybrids but has long been skeptical about consumers' appetite for cars that run on batteries alone. Now, under pressure from foreign rivals like Tesla, the company says it is developing a batch of new electric models.

The Japanese government has made managing the shift to next-generation vehicles a priority, but critics say its approach lacks focus. It has bet big on hydrogen fuel cells, an alternative technology to plug-in rechargeable batteries that is struggling to win widespread support.

The fear is that, once again, Japan will miss a big technological shift.

In the consumer electronics sector, the transition to new products like flat-screen televisions and digital music players undermined once-ubiquitous Japanese brands. Innovation in the digital era became the domain of Silicon Valley, while mass production shifted to China.

As a result, some storied names in the world of technology -- Sharp, Toshiba, Sanyo -- have either disappeared or no longer resonate with the world's consumers the way they once did.

"What really puts Japan on the defensive is the idea that the tech revolution is coming to the car industry," said James Kondo, a visiting professor at Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo who has worked with technology companies in the United States and Japan.

"The industry is at the center of everything, not just economically but psychologically, and it's facing fundamental change," he added.

Cars that don't burn gasoline or diesel account for a tiny sliver of the world market today, but their prospects are looking brighter.

Batteries are becoming more powerful even as their prices tumble. China, the world's biggest automobile market, is betting big on electric cars. France and Britain have announced they will phase out fossil-fuel-burning vehicles in an effort to fight climate change.

Posted by at January 9, 2018 5:25 PM

  

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