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Japanese, foreign automakers join forces on new sports cars

Publication Date : 16-08-2014


More and more leading Japanese automakers are developing new models of their flagship sports cars in collaboration with foreign manufacturers of high-end vehicles.

The Japanese companies aim to minimise development costs by sharing the burden with the foreign makers, while also benefiting from the overseas’ manufacturers brand recognition. But some auto experts have warned this could weaken the originality of the Japanese automakers’ own brands and alienate established fans who have favored those brands for many years.

In June, Nissan Motor Co. released the Skyline 200 GT-t, a new model in its Skyline sports car line with turbo engines made by Daimler AG of Germany. The engine was originally made for Mercedez Benz automobiles.

Skyline fans have given the new model and its engine a warm reception, and orders have reached about 1,800 units in the two months since its release. This is more than four times Nissan’s initial goal.

In 2013, Toyota Motor Corp. announced joint development with BMW of Germany. At a press conference at the time of the announcement, then Vice Chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada said, “We want to make the successor to the Supra.”

Toyota discontinued sales of its Supra model sports car in 2002. Toyota will likely release the new model in 2017 at the earliest.

The chassis of a new model Roadster convertible, made by Mazda Motor Corp., is currently under joint development with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, a group operating mainly in the United States and Europe. Fiat Chrysler owns Alfa Romeo as a group company.

Mazda is scheduled to announce the design of the new model in September.

An official at a major Japanese automaker said the domestic market for sports cars is “a small market with annual sales of tens of thousands of units at the most.” But retail prices per vehicle are high, so foreign automakers have made large profits from sports car sales.

Brand recognition has been relatively weak for sports cars produced by Japanese automakers, so the firms had reduced their lineups of such models. Instead they have been using their resources to develop next-generation eco-friendly cars, such as hybrid vehicles and electric vehicles.

But consumers in Japan have bought a smaller number of cars in recent years, and rivals in emerging nations have competed aggressively with Japanese companies in overseas markets.

This lead to a growing perception among Japanese automakers that flagship sports car models are essential to revitalise brand recognition, and they have resumed development in this area.

However, development costs for sports cars have rapidly ballooned because of stronger regulations on environment-friendly performance and safety technologies.

Joint development can minimise development costs and offer other benefits. Nissan Executive Vice President Hiroto Saikawa said, “Installing Daimler’s technologies can be appealing for luxury car owners.”

But some in the industry voiced caution. A senior Nissan official said, “Our company’s originality may be lost.”

Automobile analyst Takaki Nakanishi said: “Such joint projects will continue to appear in the future. However, because sports cars strongly reflect each company’s originality, it won’t be easy to keep pace with partners in development.”


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