Auto show planners realized long ago that their futures were hazy and decided, almost en masse, to rebrand as “mobility shows.” This is the most annoying kind of mostly meaningless buzzword-marketing. This year’s Japan Mobility Show is sort of the rebranded Tokyo Motor Show and, given how lost Japanese automakers have felt lately, it should have been the worst one. It is not. It rules. WE’RE SO BACK.
The “It’s SO over/we’re SO back” meme format is, admittedly, glib and dumb. It’s a symptom of a world that gets constant gratification/disappointment from raw, instantaneous data via social media and gives that data extreme binary significance. It’s also fun and kinda works here so I’m going to go with it (also, credit to Road & Track editor Fred Smith, who beat me to it last night). [Ed Note: I have no idea what Matt’s talking about, but he has a young child, so I guess he’s “with it” and I’m stuck in the ’90s].
This morning’s Dump will also feature some news from the GM-Honda alliance, which I think fits in the larger story. I’d be remiss if I didn’t also include a strike update that maybe better explains exactly what GM’s battery promises are. Finally, we’ll round it out with some VinFast updates.
Japan Gets Its Swagger Back
Japan’s auto industry has suffered greatly from external pressures (the ascendancy of Chinese automakers and the pandemic) as well as internal ones (no real plans for EVs, unnecessary executive drama, and average products). The mojo, as they say, has been lost.
Or has it? It’s extremely simplistic and convenient, rhetorically, to take separate companies with different goals and histories and combine them all into one monolithic thing united only by geography. It’s also probably accurate here. Japanese automakers are largely conservative, usually have a clear idea of what other brands are doing, and are fast to follow.
It’s been a sad reality that the Japanese auto industry hasn’t had the juice for years. Sure, they make good cars. A lot of good cars. And they sell in large numbers. The excitement, though, has felt lacking recently. Long gone were the bubble days when the Tokyo Motor Show was just banger after banger. Weird trucks. Crazy sports cars. Tiny cars we’d never get. It was fun.
The aging GT-R, the BMW-based Supra, and the great-but-ignored Acura NSX are all clear examples of the industry’s modern juice deficit. Korea has the juice. China has the juice. Sweden, even, has the juice [Ed Note: Sweden? -DT]. Japan, though, has no juice.
There were signs this was changing. The 2023 Toyota Prius was a surprise hit from the LA Auto Show. The same could be said of the 2024 Toyota Tacoma and new Toyota Landcruiser. So, at least, Toyota understood what was wrong.
Today’s Japan Mobility Show indicates the rest of the country’s automakers also are starting to get it. Seriously, it’s like a kindergartener’s birthday. Unlimited juice! This party is off the hook.
I wrote about the electric Honda Prelude Concept and how refreshing it was to see an attractive, production-intent design from a company whose EVs are mostly going to be warmed over GM products for the near future. Nissan has a wild EV Nissan GT-R-ish concept that feels like something it’s going to build. Mazda, too, surprised everyone with a sports car.
Even Lexus has the above LF-ZC, one of the brand’s next-gen BEV concepts meant to become a car you can actually buy in 2026. All the brands are getting in on the action.
Honestly, I underestimated the Japan Mobility Show and as a punishment, we’re going to spend the rest of the day writing about some of these great cars. Buckle up.
GM and Honda Ditch Plan To Co-Develop Cheap Electric Cars
The extreme walk-back of electric vehicle plans from GM continues with Honda and GM announcing an end to their $5 billion plan to try and beat Tesla with cheaper, co-developed EVs.
Here’s how Reuters explains it:
GM CEO Mary Barra said on Tuesday during an earnings conference call that the U.S. automaker was shifting its EV push from efforts in the entry-level segments, that included a $5 billion commitment over the next several years to GM’s Bolt EV. A spokesperson confirmed she was referring to the Honda EV partnership.
The two firms agreed in April last year to develop a series of lower-priced EVs based on a new joint platform, producing potentially millions of cars from 2027.
The automakers had said the deal was for “affordable” EVs, including compact crossover vehicles, built using GM’s Ultium battery technology.
Ouch. Also, this seems entirely backward. GM had such a great concept with the Bolt and nearly walked away from it, and instead seems to be shifting towards more luxury/expensive electric vehicles I guess? It is classic GM to have a good idea and abandon it right as it seems like it could work.
Honda and GM will still partner on some EVs as they’re knee-deep in a partnership already. The deal for autonomous vehicles in Japan to be produced with Honda also will continue, although the Cruise brand took a hit yesterday.
Honestly, given where GM is going, this might be good for Honda. Perhaps it can do it better on its own.
GM Explains How The UAW Battery Plant Deal Works
Also in yesterday’s news-filled earnings call, GM CEO Mary Barra sort of explained how the company’s proposed deal with the UAW over future (and one current) battery plants would work.
Per The Detroit News:
Barra said Ultium leadership is negotiating with the UAW to have its own agreement but GM “did put an offer on the table that would put Ultium Cells under the scope of the master agreement.”
She added: “We believed at the time that it would allow for, which it must have, benchmark economics and also operating flexibility because the battery cell plant is very different than some of the traditional operations … at this point, that offer remains open but the focus is on Ultium getting their own agreement.”
And how did the union respond? Also from that report:
UAW President Shawn Fain joined members on Monday to walk to the picket line after the strike expansion.
While there, he was asked by reporters where the battery plant issue stands and said: “It’s dead in the water.”
Great. The UAW also expanded its strike to GM’s profitable Escalade factory.
VinFast Quickly Switches To Dealership Model
It’s hard to get someone to buy a car they haven’t driven. It’s even harder to get people to buy a car they’ve never heard of. Tesla had the advantage of being a first-mover and gained a ton of early adopters who were also great advocates for the brand.
The launch of Vietnamese automaker VinFast’s VF8 was an utter disaster. The cars were not ready. They might be ready now and, rather than try to sell only direct-to-consumer, VinFast has shifted towards a more hybrid approach that also includes 27 dealers across the country according to a regulatory filing picked up by Automotive News:
The current batch of interested retailers have locations in Florida, Texas, North Carolina, Virginia, Louisiana, New Jersey and Arkansas, among others, VinFast said. It did not identify the prospective dealers.
Duke Hale, an auto industry veteran who is working as an adviser to VinFast, told Automotive News on Tuesday that the 27 dealers represent just the first wave of prospective VinFast retailers who have submitted applications for open sales points.
“There will probably be three or four phases,” Hale said. “You can’t just wave a magic wand and put in a hundred dealers. The paperwork, the state filings, all that stuff, it’s going to take some time.”
First, Duke Hale is a great name for an automotive industry veteran. Second, this makes a lot of sense to me. Get some cars on lots. Let people poke at them. Give consumers a sense that if something goes wrong there’s someone they can talk to nearby.
The Big Question
What’s the best Japanese concept car ever to come out of Japan? What’s the all-timer? Another question: Which automakers do you think has their “mojo” (i.e. they build exciting stuff) fully intact, and who’s lost it?