Japan may become the next country to ban the sale of vehicles powered by internal combustion engines, according to several reports, joining a growing list that includes both the United Kingdom and Norway, while other nations, such as France, Germany and China, are studying similar restrictions.
Such a move would be in line with the environmental pledge made by new Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga in October. Shortly after taking office, Suga set Japan on a course to be carbon-neutral on a net basis by 2050.
Such a ban on gas- and diesel-powered vehicles would be a significant one. With a population of about 126 million people, Japan is one of the world’s largest new-vehicle markets, and among the biggest vehicle producers. Its domestic factories rolled out 3.4 million cars and trucks during just the first nine months of this year. Globally, Toyota and Nissan are two of the five largest auto manufacturers.
The possibility of a ban, which was reported by the Nikkei, Reuters and broadcaster NHK, has been confirmed by government spokesman Katsunobu Kato who told reporters in Tokyo on Thursday the Japanese Ministry of Industry will pull together a plan by year-end.
A ban on gas engines, depending upon how it is implemented, could cause problems for some of Japan’s automakers however. Toyota and Honda were pioneers in the development of conventional hybrids and now offer plug-based models, as well. But the two manufacturers have been cautious about adopting full battery-electric propulsion, Toyota in particular.
That said, they have indicated a willingness to move as markets – and regulators – demand. Honda, in particular, recently announced an alliance with General Motors that will see it launch several new BEVs in the U.S. It launched an all-electric model of its own, the Honda E, in Europe this year. But Honda also pulled from production an electric version of the Clarity model sold in the U.S. It continues to offer the sedan in plug-in hybrid and hydrogen fuel-cell forms.
Toyota, meanwhile, is looking at having at least one BEV in production by 2025. It could speed up its BEV development or ramp up its own focus on hydrogen power. The industry giant has been a leading proponent of fuel-cell technology. Toyota has been openly skeptical of today’s lithium-ion battery technology and is known to be working on next-generation solid-state batteries.
Other Japanese manufacturers vary significantly in how they might fare in the wake of a Japanese ICE ban.
Nissan would be the most well positioned, the second largest of Japan’s automakers having marketed the world’s first high-volume battery-electric vehicle, the Leaf. Nissan is preparing to bring out a second BEV, the Ariya, in 2021, and indicated it will follow with other models for both its Nissan and Infiniti brands.
Mitsubishi, which is partially owned by Nissan, has already played with various forms of electrification and has been positioned as the battery-car lead for small vehicles as part of its duties within the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance.
Subaru was slow to introduce any form of electric propulsion but has now moved into the hybrid segment. The carmaker early this year forecast 40% of its global sales will be hybrid or BEV by 2030. Subaru expects to have its first BEV in production by 2025, part of a joint venture with Toyota.
A Japanese ban on the sale of ICE-powered vehicles would only add to the pressure Japanese automakers face to go electric. The country would join a growing list of countries, including France, Germany, Norway and India, have either enacted similar bans or are studying such rules. China, for its part, this autumn said it is targeting a 20% mix of “New Energy Vehicles,” including plug-ins and BEVs, by 2025. The Asian nation, home to the world’s largest car market, is studying an outright ban.
A number of states and cities, including Berlin, London and Paris, are also expected to ban both the sale of ICE vehicles and even their use in central zones. California, meanwhile, is moving forward on its own phase out of gas and diesel cars and trucks and its rules will likely be copied by many other states across the U.S.
Adding to the pressure on Japanese automakers, an expanding list of manufacturers has laid out plans to go all-electric. General Motors CEO Mary Barra has repeatedly stressed that her company is on “a path to an all-electric future.” Even high-line Bentley plans to turn exclusively to BEVs by 2026. And, also on Thursday, Volvo’s CEO Hakan Samuelsson said he would be “surprised” if the Swedish automaker sold anything other than all-electric vehicles by 2030.