In a surprising turn of events at the 2023 Japan Mobility Show, major Japanese automakers have unveiled a series of electric sports car concepts, reigniting excitement reminiscent of the golden era of Japanese sports cars from the 1980s and 1990s. While Porsche, BMW, and Ferrari executives have long enjoyed a comfortable position in the performance car hierarchy, the new generation of drivers has not witnessed the upheaval that once challenged the dominance of European brands. Now, Japanese automakers are reviving the spirit of their iconic sports cars, but this time, they’re going electric, with a couple of exceptions.
Although Japanese brands no longer need to prove themselves in the sports car arena, they still face challenges when it comes to electric vehicles (EVs) in North America. Toyota, Honda, Mazda, and Subaru have yet to make a significant impact in the North American EV market.
At the Japan Mobility Show, Toyota revealed a two-seat EV reminiscent of the classic MR2, while Subaru showcased an electric coupe inspired by rally racing, offering an affordable alternative to the Porsche 911 Dakar. Nissan presented an ambitious electric GT-R successor concept, and Mazda, one of the two brands without a pure EV offering, introduced the Iconic SP, a stunning plug-in hybrid sports car concept. Honda, on the other hand, presented the two-door Prelude hybrid as a glimpse into the brand’s electrified future.
Although this wave of sports car concepts may never hit dealership floors, it signifies a shift in the industry’s focus toward demonstrating that even affordable EVs can be thrilling, sporty, and desirable. This trend follows South Korean automakers Hyundai and Kia, which have already ventured into this territory.
The Japan Mobility Show, previously known as the Tokyo Motor Show, featured a wide range of mobility solutions beyond traditional automobiles, including e-bikes, hydrogen-powered scooters, three-wheelers, flying cars, and even a suitcase that transforms into an e-scooter, named the Honda Motocompacto.
However, the electrified sports car concepts stole the show’s spotlight, signaling a desire to challenge the status quo and offer excitement, even in the world of less expensive EVs. Alfonso Albaisa, Nissan’s senior vice-president for global design, expressed surprise at the surge in sports car concepts, highlighting the human tendency to rebel against uniformity and conformity in technology and design.
Nissan’s Hyper Force concept, boasting 1,300 horsepower and futuristic aesthetics, embodies this spirit of rebellion and excitement. Additionally, Mazda’s CEO, Masahiro Moro, emphasized the uniqueness and thrill of driving a car, countering the idea that vehicles would become mere commodities in the electric age.
Among the standout concepts, Mazda’s Iconic SP, a sleek and low-slung coupe, stands as a symbol of automotive excitement. Toyota’s FT-Se concept pays homage to the iconic MR2, showcasing the possibilities of Toyota’s forthcoming EV platform. Koji Sato, the new president of Toyota Motor Corp., noted that electric cars offer a distinct kind of driving fun and automotive charm, extending beyond their eco-friendly attributes.
Ultimately, these electric sports cars not only capture enthusiasts’ attention but also cast a positive image over their respective brands, drawing in customers who may eventually opt for practical SUVs, even though the initial allure was the sporty electric experience.