Japanese brands bring in Chinese partners for BEV offensive

Trio of OEMs are aiming for highly-software enabled EVs through JVs with domestic automakers

Japanese brands bring in Chinese partners for BEV offensive
Mazda has launched the EZ-6 in both BEV and PHEV variants

Japanese OEMs Nissan, Mazda and Toyota have unveiled a slate of new NEVs to be sold in China, as Japanese automakers rethink how to make their mark on the world's largest EV market by teaming up with local knowledge.

At the Auto China '24 motor show in Beijing, Nissan has unveiled a BEV sedan, the Epoch, a BEV SUV, the Epic, the Era PHEV SUV, as well as the Evo PHEV sedan, all of which are concepts. Nissan's products for the Chinese market are manufactured in conjunction with Chinese OEM Dongfeng.

Mazda has also unveiled two new electrified vehicles at the Auto China 24 show, the first of a new range to be launched under its Sino-Japanese JV known as Changan Mazda.

The first car unveiled, the Mazda EZ-6, is a sedan scheduled for mass production before year-end. And the Arata crossover is, while described as a "concept", scheduled for production by the end of 2025. Both will come in BEV and PHEV versions.

"Going forward, Mazda will continue to work with Changan Automobile to turn Mazda’s China business around by introducing its unique products that meet the needs of Chinese customers who prefer advanced vehicles," says Mazda CEO Masahiro Moro.

Mazda is the latest OEM to launch a sub-brand in China based on more digitally-advanced vehicles with greater software capabilities, following German OEM VW and Chinese automaker Xpeng.

With its new cars, Nissan also says it "will partner with leading companies in the areas of intelligence to bring exciting intelligence system and AI-based services to customers in China and beyond", though it has not introduced a sub-brand.

Trying to bounce back

Mazda's fortunes in the Chinese market have been mixed, largely due to a lack of attractive EV offerings. The company sold only 85,000 vehicles of any kind in China in 2023, down 72pc from a peak of 309,000 cars in 2017.

Mazda’s best-selling models in China are ICE, such as the Mazda3. In 2021, it released an EV version of the CX-30 compact SUV, which failed to capture material market share.

The promises of improved range, as well as advanced software, may make the upcoming range more attractive in the market. Mazda claims an approximately 600km range for the EZ-6 BEV.

Nissan has also struggled in China, to this point preferring to avoid the hyper-competitive NEV landscape and and instead focusing its strategy on sales of ICE vehicles in smaller cities with less EV infrastructure.

Last May Japanese OEM Toyota announced a plan to improve declining performance in China after experiencing a 30pc drop in sales between 2021 and 2022. Japanese peer Mitsubishi also suspended production in China indefinitely in mid-July amid plunging sales.

Toyota is also debuting two new BEV models, the bZ3C crossover and the bZ3X SUV, at the show — again following the model of working with a Chinese OEM partner, in its case FAW.

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The two new offerings were initially unveiled as concept cars at last year's Auto Shanghai. But they have now been upgraded for mass production and Toyota plans to begin selling both in China within a year.

Peer Honda has new all-electric concepts to display too.

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