Hybrids Dominate, But Japan Makes Room for EVs

Whether the current 27,000-plus quick and standard chargers meet current needs is hard to say since Japan – led by Toyota – has put its focus on hybrids and had only 104,420 all-electric cars in operation at the end of last year.

Roger Schreffler

May 9, 2018

4 Min Read
Japan Service Station
Oil company Idemitsu installed EV chargers at regular gas stations in 2012.

TOKYO – Despite trailing other leading markets in electric-vehicle sales and penetration, Japan is keeping pace with charging-infrastructure installation targets, according to an official of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

Zuiou Ashihara, a deputy director in METI’s manufacturing industries bureau, says, “We think that we have almost enough for the time being.”

Japan has installed an estimated 7,150 50-kW quick chargers to go along with more than 20,000 standard chargers, including residential units, raising the nationwide total to nearly 27,500.

Nissan alone has sold an estimated 7,000 home chargers to Leaf owners in Japan.

Nearly 400 quick chargers have been installed along Japanese highways, Ashihara says. The largest numbers, according to Japanese map provider Zenrin, are located at car dealerships, convenience stores and shopping malls – an estimated 2,300, 1,000 and 400, respectively.

To date, the government has extended ¥55 billion ($510 million) in subsidies to establish a quick-charging infrastructure. METI’s goal is to have a quick charger every 9.3 miles (15 km) or within every 19-mile (30-km) radius.

Full subsidies, including installation costs, are available for chargers installed at highway service stops. Half subsidies are allocated to chargers at hotels, retail outlets, apartments, companies and manufacturing plants.

The subsidy for each charger is ¥5 million ($47,000) and up to ¥45 million ($420,000) for construction costs. This compares to an industry average of $40,000-$100,000, according to a 2017 report by the International Council on Clean Transportation.

The California Energy Commission puts the price tag at $185,750, “including the cost of signage, permits, network/customer service and 5-year maintenance plan.”

The Japanese ministry plans to increase outlays at apartment complexes and factories, although Ashihara declines to comment about future subsidies and schemes.

Whether the current 27,000-plus quick and standard chargers meet current needs is hard to say because Japan, which has put its focus on hybrids, had only 104,420 all-electric cars in operation at the end of last year. The plug-in hybrid total, powered by strong sales of Toyota’s Prius Prime, grew to 100,860.

This compares to more than 7.3 million hybrids sold in Japan over a 10-year period dating back to 2008. Toyota, the market leader, accounted for nearly 80% of sales.

The best-selling all-electric model is the Leaf, which Nissan introduced in December 2010, nearly 18 months after Mitsubishi launched the i-MiEV, Japan’s first mass-produced electric car.

Makoto Yoshida, deputy general manager-electric vehicle and intelligent transport operations at Nissan, notes there is a strong correlation between Leaf sales and quick chargers. As such, Leaf sales are strongest in Tokyo and in Kanagawa prefecture, where Nissan is headquartered.

By region, 1,766 quick-charging stations, one-fourth of the nationwide total, are in Greater Tokyo including Yokohama to the south, Saitama to the north and Chiba to the east.

Elsewhere, there are 1,012 in Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan’s four main islands, 874 in the Kyoto-Osaka-Nara area, 834 in Aichi and surrounding prefectures and 716 in Tohoku in northeastern Japan.

Toyota, which has no all-electric car in its lineup and is the industry’s main proponent of hybrid technology, is taking a wait-and-see approach to full electrification and EV charging.

Shizuo Abe, executive general manager-Toyota Powertrain Co., warns: “There are limits to what we can do by increasing the number of charging stations for the purpose of increasing EV range. If drivers must travel long distances just to recharge their cars, I don’t think this is what Toyota should aim for.”

Against this backdrop, Japan was an early leader in promoting a global charging standard, although with China’s emergence as the world’s leader in EV production and sales the industry’s standard could soon shift to that country.

The CHAdeMO (“CHArge de MOve”) Assn., comprising 373 organizations from 37 countries,

reports 17,571 CHAdeMO quick chargers had been installed globally as of the end of January, up 30% over the previous year’s total. This compares with 200,000 in China alone.

Nissan’s Yoshida, who serves as secretary-general of the association, acknowledges China’s standard, in part by the sheer volume of EVs sold annually there, is fast becoming a de facto standard, which is one reason why Tokyo-based CHAdeMO is working closely with Chinese companies.

“At this moment, (Chinese and CHAdeMO chargers) are not interchangeable,” Yoshida says, “but they’re fairly close and can be adapted with a slight modification. Eventually, our aim is to harmonize regulations and standards.”

The CHAdeMO Assn. includes manufacturers of EVs and chargers along with testing authorities, research laboratories, universities and local governments. Its mission: to “create the optimal fast-charging standard in order to accelerate the realization of e-mobility globally.”

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