Could Japanese car arrogance stop it competing in the future?

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The next few years are going to see big steps taken in improving car safety through the use of automated safety features like autonomous emergency braking (AEB). That much is a given and it’s something all car manufacturers seem to be putting a lot of time, effort and funds into. Except in Japan, where it’s almost business as usual. Now some analysts believe that this arrogance that cars aren’t going to get smarter is exactly the same sort of thinking that caused Japan to fall behind its nearby rival South Korea, in the electronics game.

Indeed it wasn’t too long ago where if something was made in Japan, it was thought to be the best in the world. While that might still be the case with some specific components, in recent years the growth of strong competition in Korea from companies like Samsung, has seen a big drop off of Japanese tech giants like Sony, Sharp and Panasonic, brands that used to dominate industries like TVs.

Despite this parable in its near-past though, Japan seems dead set on continuing business as usual with its cars and now analysts believe that unless companies like Toyota pull their finger out and also address the growing electronics and technological advancements of vehicles, they’ll be left behind.

“Japan’s electronics industry, which prided itself on its unique manufacturing prowess, ultimately lost its competitiveness,” said analyst Takaki Nakanishi (via FT ).”The same thing could happen [in the car industry] if things stay as they are now.”

Image source: NCAP

Image source: NCAP

Part of the problem with Japan’s technological lagging, is down to legislation. Toyota actually built the world’s first automated braking system way back in 2003, but it wasn’t allowed to completely stop the car as that was banned under Japanese regulations – so the feature was ultimately dropped. Now it’s believed that it could be 2020 or beyond before Japan can catch up with the rest of the world, at which point much more advanced safety features will be in place and other manufacturers will be the names associated with that sort of technology.

As it stands, Toyota has plans to bring in some basic automated braking features by 2017, but many auto-makers are already launching cars with that sort of technology in place. Ford, GM, VW and many other of the world’s biggest car makers all have technologies like AEB, blind spot monitoring and pedestrian detection either available now or in the near future. Volvo, Renault and Tesla have all announced that they will have fully automated vehicles within the next few years too.

That’s something that Japan just isn’t ready to match just yet. It may need to entirely restructure its auto industry, which has traditionally bean built on close relationships with suppliers, to one that is more willing to look overseas, perhaps to Germany, which has a solid base for automotive electronics manufacture.

It will be interesting to see what Toyota and other Japanese automakers (and electronics firms) do over the next few years to compensate for the added competition from its global rivals.

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Jon Martindale is an English author and journalist, who's written for a number of high-profile technology news outlets, covering everything from the latest hardware and software releases, to hacking scandals and online activism.