Japan’s shrinking workforce and growing ecommerce market have resulted in a truck driver shortage. Analysts have forecast that a third of all cargo will go undelivered by 2030. But an imminent lack of trucks, not the drivers, looms as a much bigger problem.
Trucking dominates Japan’s logistics industry due to the country’s characteristic archipelago of more than 6,800 islands. Narrow roads require specialised light-duty trucks. These small vehicles, carrying loads of 2 tonnes or less, constitute most of the industry’s trucks.
Not many Japanese companies make these. Toyota unit Hino accounted for more than a third of Japan’s new light-duty truck market in the year to March. Local peer Isuzu is its biggest rival.
The problem is the widening scandal at Hino Motors. It admits not conducting the required number of truck engine emission tests and faking testing data for decades.
Hino has almost completely halted sales in Japan after suspending shipments of its small trucks last week. About 640,000 vehicles have been affected by the scandal so far. Around 19,000 of Toyota’s trucks that use the Hino engine are also affected.
Normally that would mean an immediate windfall for rival Isuzu. But it has its own production problems due to a shortage of semiconductors and other components.
Shares of Hino have fallen 38 per cent this year. Even that may not fully reflect its dire outlook. Stock in Isuzu, which should slowly garner some of Hino’s market share as its production normalises, has gained about a fifth.
Longer term, the scandal and resulting truck shortage will mean an opening of the Japanese market to imports. It could also encourage earlier use of electric trucks than forecast due to emissions targets.
All this offers hope for Chinese light truck exporters and electric carmakers such as BYD, which make electric versions of vehicles used widely in Japan for parcel deliveries. But it is bad news for Japanese customers waiting for their packages to arrive.
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