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Why Mobility Startups Should Take A Hard Look At Japan

Illustration of electric car plugged into an outlet.

By Yuko Shimada

When it comes to innovative mobility solutions, Japan might not immediately spring to mind. Norway tops the global statistics for electric vehicles. Uber and Lyft in the U.S. have charted the course for ride-hailing. DiDi in China is the world’s largest transportation platform, with a wide range of app-based services across Asia-Pacific, Latin America, Africa and Russia.

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But there’s a sleeping giant in the mobility space: Japan. It is a massive market, with the micromobility subsegment expected to witness a 78.7% CAGR from 2021-2030 to reach approximately $11.7 billion, according to P&S Intelligence.

Fewer cars on the road = opportunities for new mobility solutions

Japan’s shrinking population and workforce are spurring a decrease in new vehicle sales and ownership, and other macrotrends are influencing mobility in Japan and around the world. As a result of increasing urgency to tackle climate change, automobile original equipment manufacturers are moving to electric vehicles, and public transport is switching to fuel cell vehicles. Many companies are entering the mobility as a service space with autonomous vehicles, micromobility in metropolises, and new forms of ground transportation.

A snapshot of activities in Japan

Japan’s mobility industry is waking up to the opportunity and making strides. For example:

Autonomous driving

Toyota’s Woven Planet Holdings moved into the autonomous driving space by acquiring Lyft’s self-driving division, Level 5, as well as Carmera, developer of high-definition maps for autonomous vehicles, and Renovo Motors to enhance automated vehicle software.

Truck platooning

Photo of Yuko Shimada of Scrum Ventures
Yuko Shimada of Scrum Ventures

Toyota Tsusho has been conducting demonstrations of “truck platooning,” or vehicle-to-vehicle communications and sensors to virtually connect two or more trucks together in a convoy to reduce costs and increase efficiency.


Regulations are changing, too, especially those for micromobility. Rules governing motorized scooters were strict, but under a new amendment, helmets are no longer required for those over age 16 for motorized scooters with a maximum speed of 20km/hr. With regulations easing up, new entrants in micromobility are staking their claims.


Strategies for all the major OEMs—Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Mazda and Subaru—are heavily focused on EVs.

Autonomous driving/micromobility blends

Japan is also seeing innovative startups entering the market that blend different types of strategies and technologies. U.S.-based May Mobility 1is operating autonomous micro-buses in Japan, and Whill offers autonomous wheelchairs in some of Japan’s public areas such as airports.

Tips for startups to succeed in Japan

For success in Japan, startups need to keep several factors in mind.

  • Establish partnerships with trusted organizations with strong brand recognition and an existing network. For example, the largest bike-sharing brands are affiliated with the largest telecom companies: Docomo (Docomo Bikeshare) and SoftBank (Hello Cycling). Both use familiar online payment systems, making it easier for them to gain market share.
  • Integrate into things that Japan’s consumers are already familiar with. The app Miles, 2 which rewards app users taking ground-based transportation in exchange for deals and discounts, resonates well due to the Japanese inclination toward point collecting.
  • Appeal to the mass market by aligning with a major Japanese corporation. A good example is the AV shuttle operator startup May Mobility.

A final word: The mobility opportunity in Japan

Japan is undergoing significant changes in its demography and its modes of transportation. In transitioning from the long-established vehicle ownership model to a sharing mobility system, more technological innovations, nontraditional entrants and new partnership models must be considered.

The country is home to several global automakers, and they are quickly adapting to a new market environment of EVs. But there is plenty of room to further integrate disruptive technologies. Now is the time for new global mobility players to enter the Japanese market and tap into a more affordable, mass-market, green and on-demand transportation options.

Yuko Shimada oversees programs related to carbon neutrality, energy and sustainability, including the accelerator program “GreenX” at Scrum Ventures, a seed/early VC located in Silicon Valley and Tokyo. She previously worked at Deloitte advising government agencies in renewables, power and energy, and later at Moody’s Investors Service covering Japanese electric utilities, automobile companies and trading companies. She received her B.S. from Georgetown University, and her M.A. in international affairs from Columbia University.

Illustration: Dom Guzman

  1. May Mobility is a Scrum Ventures portfolio company.

  2. Miles is a Scrum Ventures  portfolio company.

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