Japanese leading hybrid raceJapan’s efforts to develop advanced hybrid vehicles are alarming.
Toyota last month introduced its latest Prius, which features a staggeringly high fuel economy of 38 kilometers per liter (roughly 90 miles to the gallon). The moment it was out, it topped the domestic sales chart as orders in Japan surged past 140,000 units within three weeks.
To meet demand, Toyota relocated 1,300 of its employees from other vehicle plants to its Prius production lines.
The Japanese automobile parts industry, which was hit hard by the contracting global economy, is enjoying a recovery thanks to rising sales of the Prius.
Hybrid vehicles are now the future of the automobile market, which bodes well for Japan. The country now holds more than 90 percent of the world market for hybrid vehicles, with Toyota and Honda at the center. Yet Japan continues to innovate, developing even more budget-friendly vehicles with ever-increasing gas mileage.
At the same time Mitsubishi has developed a plug-in electric vehicle called i MiEV, which the company plans to unveil next month. Although the car costs twice as much as a hybrid, it reduces fuel cost by a third.
Yet the biggest problems the vehicle faces revolve around the extensive time it takes to charge the battery and the short distance it travels. However, even the Prius was derided as a car without much of a future when it was first developed 11 years ago. So nobody really knows how the market for a plug-in electric vehicle will turn out.
Compared to Japan, the Korean automobile industry is still stuck in a rut.
Hyundai Motor and Kia Motors, the country’s top two automakers, need to resolve issues with their labor unions. Additionally, the companies continue to develop automobiles that are less fuel-efficient than other vehicles on the market.
Korean automakers, for instance, have introduced larger, fuel-guzzling vehicles such Genesis, Equus and Mohave. They have developed fuel-efficient automobiles including the Avante and Forte hybrids. However, the gas milage of these vehicles still comes in at 17.8 kilometers per liter - much less than their Japanese counterparts.
Even the global compact vehicle market, where Korean companies have traditionally had the upper hand, has recently been threatened by European and Indian automakers. If that continues, the future of Korean automakers will erode. New fuel-efficient vehicles are changing the global automobile market. Time is running out for Korean companies to catch up to their Japanese competitors.