Why Japan leads in electromobility - and why this could change soon

March 04, 2014 // By Christoph Hammerschmidt
Is electromobility a strategic issue for Europe's automotive industry or just a propaganda slogan? A study from management consulting service Roland Berger shows where the real technology leaders are.

If one sees the supporting role (at best) electromobility plays at the Geneva International Motor Show, one cannot escape the conclusion that despite frenzied design efforts and eye-catching announcements, the European carmakers are only half-heartedly committed to electric driving. Instead, they continue to push the conventional combustion engine technology to the limits.

The 'Electromobility Index' compiled by Roland Berger and the Aachen-based Forschungsgesellschaft Kraftfahrwesen (Research society for Automotive Issues) compares the competitive position of seven leading automotive economies - China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Korea and the U.S. - under the aspect of electromobility. The index ascribes the clear leadership in this mobility segment to Japan. The country leads in terms of technology as well as in terms of electric vehicle sales.

There are multiple reasons for Japan's pole position (and Europe's and to some extend the USA's backlog) in the electromobility race.

  • In Japan, electric vehicles are up to 40 % cheaper than in Europe.
  • The charging infrastructure is far more developed in Japan whereas in Europe the lack of such an infrastructure still acts as a major roadblock to acceptance.
  • As a consequence of the better price-performance ratio, 80 % of Japan's electric vehicles are used privately where they seriously compete with conventional vehicles.
  • Battery manufacturers in Japan (and in South Korea) master the entire battery production value chain, resulting in a competitive advantage for these countries.

In Germany, the price-performance ratio in battery manufacturing has slightly worsened over the past quarters. For this reason, South Korea currently holds a leading position in battery technology and manufacturing. The reason why Germany fell back in the competition is that it focuses on the high-end part of the market - something Germany currently has in common with the US. France lacks dynamics in the e-car model range, the study finds - and in Italy as well as China the progress is stagnating.

In terms of industrialisation, Japan is leading the