TOKYO — Chinese automaker BYD will begin selling its first passenger electric vehicle in Japan next month for 4.4 million yen ($32,000), less than EV offerings from rivals such as Nissan and Tesla, as it accelerates its global expansion.

The carmaker, initially known for battery production, sees opportunities for its auto business in Japan, where domestic automakers have been slow to roll out their own EV models.

BYD’s flagship model, the midsize sport utility vehicle Atto 3, will go on sale in the country from Jan. 31, with deliveries to begin around March, the company announced on Monday. The price is below that of Nissan’s Ariya and Tesla’s Model 3, both of which sell for more than 5 million yen, as well as other foreign high-end models.

The price could drop further if government subsidies for EVs continue at the same level next year, making the Atto 3 “considerably affordable,” said Atsuki Tofukuji, president of BYD Auto Japan, the subsidiary in charge of marketing services. “This is necessary to realize our goal of making e-mobility available to everyone.” The government has not yet revealed the amount of subsidies for cars registered after mid-February 2023.

BYD is preparing to set up 22 sales locations in Japan starting in January and hopes to have more than 100 stores by the end of 2025, creating a sales network stretching from northernmost Hokkaido to southernmost Okinawa.

Even though Japan’s total car sales are expected to decline in the coming years due to the shrinking population and the rise of car-sharing services, it is still the world’s third-largest market, with between 4 million and 5 million cars sold each year, according to Tofukuji.

The government has set a target of requiring all newly sold cars to be electric by 2035, but EVs currently account for only about 1% of annual sales.

“We hope to enhance our presence in Japan little by little as consumers look for more options of green cars amid the shift to a carbon neutral society,” Tofukuji said. While BYD claims a 70% share of Japan’s commercial electric buses, the brand is not widely known among consumers.

Following the Atto 3, the company plans to launch the hatchback compact Dolphin in mid-2023 and the sedan Seal in the second half of 2023 in Japan.

BYD has shown “particularly impressive” growth in the past few years, the International Energy Agency said in its 2022 report on EVs. The automaker emerged as the world’s third-largest producer of EVs in 2021, after Tesla of the U.S. and Germany’s Volkswagen Group, despite not even being among the top six producers in 2020.

Having acquired the top share in its home base of China, the world’s largest EV market, the automaker is accelerating its global expansion, from Europe to Asia and the Americas. It recently entered the market in Thailand, where it is building a fifth production facility, its first outside China.

Written by: SAYUMI TAKE, Nikkei staff writer