Japan is an industrial juggernaut and has long been one of the world’s biggest car exporters. Despite this, the country’s appetite for all-electric cars is extremely low. In the first half of 2023, just 2% of Japan’s new car sales were represented by pure battery EVs (hybrids excluded). The fact that local automakers like Toyota and Honda only offer a handful of battery-powered models on their own turf isn’t helping grow the adoption rate either. And here’s where the Chinese automakers come in. Again.

Specifically, BYD, which not only just won the grand prize at the 2023 Japan EV of the Year Awards, but also had another model finish in third place, too. 

Get Fully Charged

Japanese automakers lag on EVs

For many reasons, including energy challenges in their home market, Japan's automakers are widely considered behind the curve on EVs when compared to China, Korea and even the U.S. and Europe. Now that they're losing ground in key markets to EVs, they're scrambling to catch up. 

The 2023 Japan EV of the Year award was hosted by EV industry media outlet EVsmart and energy consultant Enechange, with the candidates receiving votes from journalists and readers. To be fair, their list of contenders this year included examples from many countries; the Volkswagen ID.4, the Tesla Model S, X and 3, Fiat 500e and Hyundai Kona were among the judges' choices. Last year, the popular Nissan Sakura electric compact won top honors.

But the BYD Dolphin all-electric compact hatchback took the top spot in the competition this time with the automaker noting that the Japan-specific version of the EV is slightly shorter in height than the variants sold in other markets so that it can fit in the mechanical parking facilities that are commonly found in Japan.

The BYD Atto 3 crossover, which was the Chinese company’s first model launched in Japan, ranked third in the same competition with 145 points. The Hyundai Kona EV, which is made in South Korea, got second place with 151 points, while the BYD Dolphin received 241 points.

But perhaps more telling was the scarcity of Japanese models in this year's test. Of the 18 contenders, only four were Japanese: the Lexus RZ and then three electric work vans.

And the first- and third-place honors are yet another feather in BYD's cap. Last year, it became China’s largest automaker and the world’s biggest plug-in vehicle manufacturer, surpassing Tesla. It has a diverse portfolio of battery-powered cars, starting with a budget city EV and going all the way up to a flagship sedan. 

As Japanese automakers start to lose share in increasingly electric China, China's exports are catching on like wildfire in other countries—sometimes with their ability to adapt to local tastes.

BYD Atto 3 takes third place at the

In Europe, for instance, the Dolphin has a height of 61.81 inches (1,570 millimeters), while in Japan it’s 61.02 inches (1,550 mm). In the Land of the Rising Sun, the compact EV is available with either a 44.9-kilowatt-hour or a 58.56-kWh battery pack for a WLTC-rated range between 248 miles (400 kilometers) and 295 miles (476 km). It also has vehicle-to-load (V2L) capability, allowing owners to export up to 1.5 kW of power from the high-voltage battery to appliances or tools with the help of an adapter.

The starting price of the BYD Dolphin in Japan is roughly $24,500 (3,630,000 yen). By comparison, the Mitsubishi eK X EV, which is smaller and has a shorter driving range than the Dolphin–111 miles (180 km) WLTC–but is also one of the most popular EVs in Japan, starts at roughly $17,220 (2,546,500 yen).

The Atto 3, which competes with the Tesla Model Y, starts at about $30,500 (4.5 million yen) in Japan and comes with a 58.56-kWh battery pack that enables a WLTC-rated driving range of 292 miles (470 km).

Get the InsideEVs Newsletter
Sign Up Today
Got a tip for us? Email: tips@insideevs.com