U.S. and Japanese automakers to be left behind by China

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The auto industry is currently in the midst of a paradigm shift. Well, several paradigm shifts, really.

The first is the move towards electrification. More and more auto brands are investing heavily in electric vehicles (EVs), with some even committing to completely phasing out fossil-fueled cars in the near future, such as Bentley, Jaguar, Lotus, MINI and Volvo. Even Ferrari released its first hybrid vehicle, the SF90 Stradale.

The second is the rise of China as an automotive powerhouse. China has long eclipsed the United States as the world’s largest automaker country, but Chinese cars have long suffered from a (not entirely undeserved) perception that they are shoddy and lacking in quality. not always successful outside the People’s Republic.

But that is changing rapidly. In countries like Australia, Sweden and Norway, Chinese brand vehicles such as the MG3 and Polestar 2 have become among the top selling vehicles in their respective markets. Paradigms also collide: China is the world’s leading manufacturer of electric vehicles, and a Chinese electric vehicle, the Wuling Hongguang Mini, now overtakes Tesla’s Model 3 as the best-selling electric vehicle today.

In short, the Chinese “threat” is real. But not all brands are doing what they need to keep pace with China – or the industry in general. Specifically, many Japanese and American automakers, who were once at the forefront of the industry, are lagging behind.

The Toyota Mirai, Toyota’s flagship hydrogen car. Although hydrogen-powered cars have some environmental benefits, it is now clear that they will not be the “technology of the future”. Image: What Car

Japanese automakers in particular have become strangely reluctant to pursue battery electric vehicles (BEVs, i.e. fully electric cars). Toyota, the world’s largest automobile brand, is possibly the worst culprit. While they were among the first to innovate in light hybrids, like the Prius, Toyota has stagnated in recent years, doubling down on mild hybrid and hydrogen technologies when it became clear that plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) and BEVs are the way forward. from the future.

Indeed, Toyota has actively lobbied the US Congress to slow political progress towards the adoption of BEV, The New York Times reports, and company president Akio Toyoda even called electric vehicles “overhyped,” according to the the Wall Street newspaper.

Toyota is not the only culprit either: Nissan, Mitsubishi, Mazda and others have all been very slow on BEVs when they were previously innovators in electrification (although it should be noted that Honda s is in fact committed to phasing out gasoline and diesel engines by 2040, the first and to date the only Japanese automaker to do so.)

For some American automakers, it’s a similar story. As General Motors plans to go carbon neutral by 2040 and Ford of Europe has announced that its entire passenger vehicle lineup (plus two-thirds of its light commercial vehicle lineup) will be fully electric by 2030 , Ford’s US operations have not followed suit. Stellantis, the European mega-company that now owns the Chrysler Group, has announced ambitious plans to electrify 96% of its U.S. offerings by 2025 – but that notably excludes their fuel-hungry brands Dodge and RAM.

And this is crucial. Fuel-hungry trucks like the Chevrolet Silverado, Ford F-Series, and RAM 1500 are the biggest sellers of these American brands. This is greenwashing: There is no point in electrifying other models if your biggest sellers are still fueled by fossil fuels. Things could change in the truck space, however, with the arrival of BEVs like the Ford F-150 Lightning and the Rivian R1T…

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The Dodge Challenger SRT Demon, a car that is perhaps iconic of the American automotive situation: spending too much time building fuel-hungry niche vehicles on obsolete chassis, rather than investing in new chassis and new ones technologies. Image: Top Gear

The second area in which Japanese and American automakers lag behind China is quality. American cars have always been viewed as somewhat questionable when it comes to overall quality, but Japan was once the gold standard – that reputation is now slowly evaporating.

As Japanese automakers have shifted production to countries like Thailand, Mexico, and indeed the United States, their bulletproof reputation has been somewhat damaged. South Korean brands have largely supplanted Japanese brands when it comes to making cars that are affordable, quality and reliable. Hell, they’re even following the Japanese model of shifting to luxury vehicles: Hyundai is having impressive success with its premium brand Genesis, for example.

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However, what is very telling about the quality of American cars in particular is that the Chinese versions of the cars designed in the United States come off production lines better manufactured than their American counterparts.

“Comparing vehicles built both in the West and in China is particularly enlightening,” Tom Stacey, senior lecturer at Anglia Ruskin University in England. to be related to.

“The Tesla Model 3 and Model Y cars are both built in the United States and China, and owners in Europe have reported that Chinese versions are better. I’ve heard that their very large panel spaces are narrower and less trips to the repair shop are required.

Watch the brutal crash-test process of Tesla’s new Model Y

So what should the United States and Japan do if they want to stay on top of the auto game?

Simple. Take electrification more seriously; not as a fad but as the future of the automobile. This is the first step. Second, they need to get back to the drawing board when it comes to quality control and stop “calling them”. This is in part due to their reliance on vehicle designs and platforms for much longer than necessary, in order to keep costs down (which the Japanese are a little more guilty of than the Americans).

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Of course, that’s easier said than done. But the reality is, Europe makes all the fun and interesting cars, and China makes all the cheap electric cars. The United States and Japan do not want to be left behind.

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