The automaker is speeding up its transition to battery power—but with the EV market in retreat, is the timing all wrong?

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What a difference four years makes! The last Tokyo Motor Show — held in 2019, just before we “welcomed” the pandemic — was a particularly desultory affair, all gloom and stagnation. It was also woefully devoid of electric cars. Oh, Nissan showed off its Ariya — which, despite claims then of being production-ready, took an obsolescence-guaranteeing three years to get to market — but otherwise, the local automakers seemed skeptical of the EV revolution that other manufacturers were ramping up production for.

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Fast-forward through lockdowns, invasions, and economic conditions confusing enough to give Milton Friedman a splitting headache, and the Tokyo auto show — newly rechristened the “Japan Mobility Show” — was positively vibrating with optimism and flashy new product. More importantly — because we are supposed to be in the clutches of an electric revolution — you couldn’t walk five feet without tripping over some sort of battery or another.

Onlookers were positively besotted with Mazda’s Iconic SP as it rotated on a turntable overlooked by the very first Miata ever built. The new battery-powered little sportster concept channelled Ferrari’s iconic Dino so resolutely that the estate of Sergio Pininfarina — who penned the 246 GT — should probably demand a royalty.

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Subaru took a different approach, its Sport Mobility concept all angular abruptness and bulldog-faced brutality. But even if the company’s electric concept couldn’t match the organic charm-fest that dominated Mazda’s booth, clothing its SVX-on-steroids in some way-trick forged carbon — the very latest in high-fashion structural composites — pretty much guaranteed the audience appreciated, if not quite loved, its angular shapes.

And, while Nissan’s Hyper Force may look a little cartoon-ish — it is, without an iota of doubt, totally inspired by Polyphony Digital’s Gran Turismo — it’s a battery-powered supercar boasting no less than 1,000 kilowatts. That’s 1,341 horsepower. There’s even some new aerodynamic aid called a “plasma actuator” that’s supposed to suppress air detachment and maximize inner-wheel traction during cornering, but that sounds like something for the VR gaming set. Nonetheless, the news we should take from Nissan is that the next GT-R is almost assuredly going to be a BEV.

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Mazda Iconic SP, compact sports car concept
Mazda Iconic SP, compact sports car concept Photo by Mazda

But, as is so often the case in Tokyo, it was Toyota that set the tone for this year’s Mobility Show, its expansive display so chock-a-block with battery electrics that one wondered whether the world’s largest automaker was making ready to dump the hybrid.

There was the cute-as-a-bug IMV O coffee truck, its organically-grown beans delivered by emissions-free electrons. The EPU pickup looked so production-ready that its tail-lights probably have parts numbers on the service department’s fiches already. There was the FT-3e SUV that the company’s engineers were claiming — with a sincerity that can only come from a Japanese engineer with a complete devotion to dependability — will boast a range of no fewer than 1,000 kilometres, thank to its batteries’ new-fangled prismatic cell structure. There was some sort of moon-rover thingie, some collapsible mobility scooters, and, believe it or not, a wheelchair that can go up and down stairs, all, to the last electron, battery-powered.

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But the star of not just Toyota’s booth but the entire show was most definitely the company’s Future Toyota Sports electric. Looking like a cross between Lexus’ lovely LC 500 and a vintage Maserati, the FT-Se sports the same prismatic-cell batteries as the 3e, but tuned for power rather than energy. If Toyota produces it — and all indications are that it will — it’ll finally be able to rid itself of BMW’s clumsy remake of the Supra. Throw in a pretty credible remake of the venerable Land Cruiser but writ electric, and in Toyota you have the impression of a once-laggardly EV skeptic finding religion.

Koji Sato, Toyota CEO, with Toyota concepts at the 2023 Japan Mobility Show
Koji Sato, Toyota CEO, with Toyota concepts at the 2023 Japan Mobility Show Photo by Toyota

There were some holes in all this battery-powered goodness. For one thing, that achingly beautiful little Mazda is a rotary range-extended BEV, the very same powertrain configuration that doomed the MX-30 to inconsequence. The Subie, though doing its credible SVX-on-steroids impression, was marred by the goofiest wheels ever foisted on a concept car. And, I think it might be fair to say that, whenever the replacement for Nissan’s iconic GT-R does show up, it won’t look anything like the Hyper Force.

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Indeed, the biggest concern in this Japan-is-back-in-the-EV-game mantra is that, other than Nissan’s boast of 1,000 kilowatts for the Hyper Force, not a single one of the EVs listed in this story — not the Subaru, not the Mazda, not even a single one of the many Toyotas listed here — boasted any form of technical tidbit detailing their electrical performance. No mention of the number of kilowatt-hours in their floorpans. No boast of the number of kilometres of emissions-free motoring they might eke out. Not even a hint, despite their sporting intent, of the potency of their electric motors (even Nissan’s 1,341-hp specification is the maximum output of the battery, not its motors’ power).

Indeed, were one a skeptic, the complete lack of technical specification might lead you to think that, despite their seeming production-readiness, most of these EVs won’t appear until the second half of the decade.

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Subaru Sport Mobility Concept
2023 Subaru Sport Mobility Concept Photo by Graeme Fletcher

That, as it turns out, might not be such a bad idea. The very same day that Mazda, Toyota, et al, were wowing us with their renewed commitment to all things electric, Reuters was devoting much of its Auto File news page to reminding us “More alarm bells sound on slowing demand for electric vehicles.” Citing the fact “high interest rates are derailing the ambitions of climate regulators and automakers to accelerate the shift to electric vehicles,” author Ben Klayman detailed the many warnings emanating from legacy automakers.

On Wednesday, it was General Motors and Honda scrapping their plans for jointly-developed budget-priced electric compact crossovers. It was also the very same day that South Korea’s LG Energy Solution warned that “EV demand next year could be lower than expectations.” And just days before, The General had warned that long-term volume targets — essentially its promise to sell 400,000 battery-powered vehicles by mid-2024 — were no longer part of its share price guidance. Sales are still growing — by some 49 per cent globally last year — but the rate of growth looks to be slowing down, particularly in the United States.

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2023 Nissan Hyper Force EV concept
2023 Nissan Hyper Force EV concept Photo by Nissan

Even Tesla’s Elon Musk is much exasperated by the profit-sapping effects of high interest rates, noting that “I just can’t emphasize this enough that the vast majority of people buying a car is about the monthly payment.” Ford, of course, recently garnered headlines for reducing production of its Ford F-150 Lightning, a vehicle, I’ll remind you, it once boasted it had to stop taking orders for, when “reservations” hit 200,000. GM, meanwhile, announced just last week that it was delaying the rejigging of a Michigan plant originally scheduled to produce battery-powered versions of its fast-selling Sierra and Silverado pickups.

In Germany, Volkswagen cut its profit predictions for the year yet again, and, in China, the hottest market for EVs these days, CATL, the world’s largest battery-maker, experienced its worst quarter in well over a year. Things are so bad that the price of lithium — predicted a year ago to sky-rocket as a result of increasing demand — is down some 67 per cent this year. Even cobalt, that much-maligned necessity automakers loathe so much — mainly because it’s usually so expensive, and they have to buy it from the Republic of Congo — is down some 50 per cent in the last 18 months.

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Koji Sato, Toyota CEO, with Toyota concepts at the 2023 Japan Mobility Show
Koji Sato, Toyota CEO, with Toyota concepts at the 2023 Japan Mobility Show Photo by Toyota

The problem isn’t sales, but expectations. As I said, global EV sales grew by a 49-per-cent increase the first half of the year, an excellent result, but not matching last year’s 63 per cent. The “abrupt slowdown in EV sales is a contrast to a year ago,” says the Wall Street Journal, when carmakers were caught flat-footed by “long waiting lists for battery-powered cars and trucks.” Many have since spent tonnes of money — with plenty of governmental subsidization to boot — building battery plants to service what they expected would continue to be exponential growth. Instead, what was once scarce and commanded a premium is now discounted and sitting unloved on dealer lots as inventories of EVs have grown dramatically.

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The irony in all of this is that part of Toyota’s original reluctance to dive headlong into EVs was chairman Akio Toyoda’s contention that the industry should hedge its bets by continuing to develop hybrid and ICE-powered vehicles. Said reluctance caused Toyota all manner of grief and was part of the reason Toyoda stepped down as CEO of the world’s largest automaker. But now, according to an article the WSJ filed from the auto show, he may be now enjoying an “I told you so” moment, telling Japan’s Automobile Manufacturers Association on Wednesday that “People are finally seeing reality.

In other words, being late to the EV party could yet turn out to be a blessing for Toyota and other Japanese marques. Only time will tell if they failed to “catch the wave,” or accurately predicted that mainstream consumers weren’t quite ready to make a wholesale shift to EVs.

David Booth picture

David Booth

David Booth is Driving’s senior writer as well as the producer of’s Driving into the Future panels and Motor Mouth podcasts. Having written about everything from the exact benefits of Diamond Like Coating (DLC) on motorcycle camshafts to why Range Rovers are the best vehicles for those suffering from opiod-induced constipation, Booth leaves no stone unturned in his quest for automotive veritas. Besides his long tenure with Driving, he was the editor in chief of Autovision magazine for 25 years and his stories has been published in motorcycle magazines around the world including the United States, England, Germany and Australia.


Graduating from Queen Elizabeth High School in 1973, Booth moved to from his Northern Quebec home town of Sept-Iles — also home to Montreal Canadiens great, Guy Carbonneau, by the way — to Ottawa to study Mechanical Engineering at Carleton University where he wrote a thesis on the then burgeoning technology of anti-lock brakes for motorcycles and spent time researching the also then burgeoning use of water tunnels for aerodynamic testing.


After three years writing for Cycle Canada magazine and another three working for the then oldest magazine in Canada, Canadian Automotive Trade, Booth, along with current Driving writer, Brian Harper, and then Toronto Star contributor, Alex Law, created an automotive editorial services group that supplied road tests, news and service bulletins to what was then called Southam newspapers. When Southam became Postmedia with its purchase by Conrad Black and the subsequent introduction of the National Post, Booth was asked to start up the then Driver’s Edge section which became, as you might suspect, when Postmedia finally moved into the digital age. In the past 41 tears, Booth has tested well over 500 motorcycles, 1,500 passenger cars and pretty much every significant supercar of the last 30 years. His passion — and, by far, his proudest achievement — however is Motor Mouth, his weekly column that, after some 30 years, remains as incisive and opinionated as ever.


Booth remains an avid sports enthusiast — that should be read fitness freak — whose favourite activities include punching boxing bags until his hands bleed and running ski hills with as little respect for medial meniscus as 65-year-old knees can bear. His underlying passion, however, remains, after all these years, motorcycles. If he’s not in his garage tinkering with his prized 1983 CB1100RC — or resurrecting another one – he’s riding Italy’s famed Stelvio Pass with his beloved — and much-modified — Suzuki V-strom 1000. Booth has been known to accept the occasional mojito from strangers and the apples of his eye are a certain fellow Driving contributor and his son, Matthew, who is Global Vice-President of something but he’s never quite sure what. He welcomes feedback, criticism and suggestions at [email protected]


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