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Japanese automakers update models with advanced safety features as standard




Automakers are quickly adapting models with advanced safety features to remain competitive and comply with stringent regulatory reforms.

IHS Markit perspective

  • Significance: Almost all key automakers in Japan including Toyota, Honda, Daihatsu, Subaru, and Mazda have introduced a number of refreshed models in the country recently. Among the host of cosmetic changes, key upgrades in the models include advanced safety technology as standard equipment.
  • Implications: The recent move by the key automakers not only forms a part of their intention to keep models competitive, but also corresponds to stricter regulations to make the vehicles safer in the country.
  • Outlook: IHS Markit forecasts that light vehicle sales in Japan will total more than 5.057 million units in 2017, up 4.3% year on year. The growth can be attributed to factors such as the gradual recovery trend of mini-car sales and the continuation of eco-car tax benefits for another two years from April 2017–19, with more stringent fuel-economy standards.

Almost all key automakers in Japan including Toyota, Honda, Daihatsu, Subaru, and Mazda have introduced a number of refreshed models in the country recently. Among the host of cosmetic changes, key upgrades in the models include advanced safety technology as standard equipment.

Mazda has equipped all grades of the CX-5 sport utility vehicle (SUV) and Atenza (also known as Mazda6 globally) with its i-Activsense advanced safety suite as standard equipment in Japan, according to a company release. In addition, features such as blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert were also fitted in the models to further enhance safety. The CX-5 is powered with either a 2-litre, 2.2-litre or 2.5-litre SkyActiv-G engine, combined with a SkyActiv-Drive transmission. The price of the model has been kept between JPY2.49 million (USD22,853.2) and JPY3.52 million. The Atenza comes with the option of the 2-litre or 2.5-litre SkyActiv-G engine with SkyActiv-Drive transmission and 2.2-litre SkyActiv-D engine with SkyActiv-Drive and SkyActiv-MT transmission options. The price range of the model has been kept at JPY2.79–4 million.

Recent key launches by other automakers

Toyota launched its updated Harrier SUV in Japan in June. All grades of the model feature Toyota's Safety Sense P active safety suite as standard, including the pre-collision system with vehicle and pedestrian detection, dynamic radar cruise control, and lane departure alert with steering assist function. The model is priced between JPY2.94 million and JPY4.95 million, and is sold through Toyopet stores throughout the country. The automaker also rolled out the next-generation Pixis Epoch minivehicle. Available in a total of four grades – B, L, X, and G – a Smart Assist III collision-avoidance assist system comes as standard in all models with improved emergency brakes and automatic high beams that can detect pedestrians at speeds of 30 km/h to 50 km/h. The price of the model has been kept between JPY842,400 and JPY1.33 million.

Subaru began sales of the updated Levorg and WRX S4 models in Japan last week. Key changes in the models include the adoption of the Smart Assist III collision-avoidance assist system as standard. The models have been upgraded with a "panoramic view monitor" to extend the driver's cognisance of his or her surroundings. The automaker has equipped all variants of the Levorg and WRX S4 with its EyeSight safety system with Touring Assist as standard. The system has been upgraded with a front-view monitor to extend the driver's cognisance of his or her surroundings. The Japanese-specification models also feature the automaker's first automatic braking system to counteract instances of accidental acceleration. The automaker has released several revamped models in the country, featuring its advanced safety technologies as standard equipment, including the recent Stella, Stella Custom, and Pleo Plus minivehicles in May.

Meanwhile, Daihatsu released refreshed Move and Move Custom minivehicles in Japan. Key changes in the models include the adoption of Smart Assist III advanced safety technology as standard. The models also received several minor exterior and interior cosmetic updates. Honda has released the refreshed Grace with Honda-sensing technology as standard.

Outlook and implications

Mazda plans to expand its model line-up featuring advanced safety features as standard equipment to five models – the Demio, Axela, and Atenza cars, and the CX-3 and CX-5 SUVs – during the fiscal year (FY) ending March 2018 in Japan. Starting from 2018, Mazda will accelerate efforts to make these technologies standard in other markets too. All trims of the models will feature the i-Activsense technology as standard in the country. Of all the functions, pre-crash safety technology, designed to reduce damage and/or injuries resulting from accidents will be included as standard on the models. It includes two safety features – Smart city brake support/smart brake support and acceleration control for automatic transmission. Additionally, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert will also be included. These two safety features are part of the active safety technology functions designed to help the driver prevent accidents by supporting his or her ability to predict and avoid hazards. According to IHS Markit data, the five models are key-selling models for Mazda in Japan and accounted for nearly 66% of its total Japanese sales in 2016. Mazda's domestic sales were led by the Demio (29.3%; 59,084 units), followed by the Axela (11.8%; 23,857 units) and the CX-5 (10.5%; 21,078 units).

The recent move by the automakers not only forms part of their intention to keep models competitive, but also corresponds to stricter regulations to make vehicles safer in the country. In January 2017, Japan's transport ministry, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism, was reportedly planning to make automatic braking systems mandatory for new cars and light-duty trucks. The report cited unnamed officials from the ministry who added that Japan will hold open discussions with other members of the United Nations working group on finalising international safety standards for automatic brakes in cars, as it seeks to make automatic brakes mandatory in all cars in Japan to curb accidents. The report added that an expert panel on the proposed standards will be set up in September this year. Unifying the standards will lower the development costs of automakers that are already developing such systems. Japanese original equipment manufacturers complying with the standards will also find it easier to sell their vehicles in markets such as Europe. Globally, international performance standards for automatic braking systems of large vehicles such as buses and heavy-duty trucks are already in place. Japan began shifting to mandatory automatic braking on large vehicles in 2014. In January, the Japanese authorities announced plans to introduce a series of safety standards for self-driving vehicles. The most commonly found advanced safety systems currently include adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, blind spot warning, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, and forward-collision warning.

We forecast that light vehicle sales in Japan will total more than 5.057 million units in 2017, up 4.3% year on year. The growth can be attributed to factors such as the gradual recovery trend of mini-car sales and the continuation of eco-car tax benefits for another two years from April 2017 to April 2019 with more stringent fuel-economy standards. In a bid to promote and support eco-car sales, the country's government announced in December 2016 that it will extend the current eco-car tax break scheme until April 2019, but with a more stringent fuel-economy standard.

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The above article is from AutoIntelligence Daily by IHS Markit. AutoIntelligence Daily provides same-day analysis of automotive news, events and trends.​​​​​​ Get a free trial.