Hyundai is back in the Japan market, with an Online-Only, All-Electric Plan

February 9, 2022

The last time Hyundai Motor Co. sold a car in Japan was in 2009, when it pulled out after years of dismal sales. Now, South Korea’s top automaker is back, but with a twist: it’s only going to sell electric vehicles, and only online. “We have prepared a lot, not to repeat the same mistake,” Jaehoon Chang, Hyundai’s chief executive officer, said in an interview. “We should know customers, we should know the market, with the right product and the right brand.”
Chang, 57, is counting on the push back into Japan to reach his goal of selling 1.7 million EVs globally in 2026, including the carmaker’s Kia and Genesis brands, a target that was recently increased from 1 million. For incumbents and new entrants, the twin forces of electrification and automation are fueling bolder moves into fresh markets that, up until now, might have seemed impenetrable.
While Hyundai hasn’t disclosed how many EVs it aims to sell in Japan, it’s definitely more than the 15,000 gasoline-engine cars sold during its prior foray. “We’ve experienced huge growth on the EV side in Korea, and we’re expecting the same thing will happen even faster in Japan,” Chang said.
Leading Hyundai’s charge back into Japan’s hyper-competitive automobile market is the Ioniq 5, a compact sports utility vehicle that debuted last year to wide acclaim. The vehicle will go head-to-head against two other battery-based EVs being rolled out this year from Japan’s top two automakers: Toyota Motor Corp.’s bZ4X and Nissan Motor Co.’s Ariya.
Even though EV uptake in Japan remains miniscule, with the bulk of the 8,600-plus registrations last year comprised of imported Tesla Inc. models, there are signs the archipelago might be on the cusp of catching up with the U.S., Europe and China.
One out of every four potential car buyers is considering an EV, a recent survey showed, while charging points are popping up around the country, even in new condominium projects.
As far as Hyundai’s CEO is concerned, the starting line is the same for every carmaker when it comes to EVs in Japan, where 4.5 million vehicles were sold last year. That gives Hyundai a chance to redefine itself as an EV manufacturer under the Ioniq marque, said Chang, who has first-hand knowledge of the market, having lived in Japan twice in the past.

The other big question looming over Hyundai’s move back into Japan is the decision to sell cars online. The nation’s auto dealers have been a formidable part of the domestic sales network, with car buyers accustomed to top-notch service. “We have no legacy dealers, which means we can try something new,” Chang said. He’s betting that Japanese customers have gotten more used to shopping online due to the pandemic. Tesla has also paved the way with its online-only sales model, although Toyota and Nissan have also started to offer web-based subscription-style leasing programs. In addition to letting car buyers customize and order their vehicles online, Hyundai also plans to offer web-based payment, insurance and registration.
There’s another twist in Hyundai’s re-entry: the automaker will also sell its Nexo fuel-cell vehicles, which have been available on a trial basis. Due in part to Toyota’s efforts to popularize the technology with its Mirai FCV, there’s already a network of 157 hydrogen fuel stations across the country. Both automakers share the same, somewhat quixotic, aspiration that fuel cells will play a role in the future of transport.
To market the Ioniq 5 and Nexo, Hyundai is teaming up Anyca, a Japanese car-sharing provider that connects vehicle owners and prospective renters. The automaker hasn’t said whether or when it plans to roll out additional Ioniq models, which include a sedan and a larger SUV.

 

by Anil George
Avid follower of all things tech. In between his quest for the ultimate gizmo, Anil fiddles with light meters, collects rare books and feeds his fetish for Jap horror movies. As Managing Editor of T3 Middle East for the GCC, Anil oversees content direction across print and digital. He was a CES 2020 Innovation Awards Judge, reprising his role as an Innovation Awards Judge at CES 2018, CES 2017, 2016 and 2015. Anil is also the Middle East's first Brand Ambassador for Ashdown Engineering. Reach him at: editor@t3me.com.