An editorial in Japan’s Nikkei argues that Japanese automakers need to respond aggressively to compete in the rapidly changing global market for electric vehicles.

…both Toyota and Honda had until recently thought that the era of hybrids would continue for a while before electric vehicles began to gain popularity. But the automakers are now accelerating their efforts to develop electric cars, and there are two main reasons for this.

One is the tough new fuel economy rules the US administration of President Barack Obama will introduce in 2012…The second reason for the heightened focus on electric cars is China’s move to promote them. At the end of 2009, Beijing announced a target of increasing the share of electric cars in overall domestic production to 10% in 2015. The government has also created a subsidy program to boost sales of electric vehicles by providing up to 60,000 yuan (770,000 yen) [US$8,800] per unit.

…Beijing has apparently decided to catapult the nation’s auto industry into the electric age by skipping the transitional era of hybrids. The auto industry is clearly facing a major turning point, and trends in China, now the world’s largest car market, will have a huge impact on the global automaking industry.

…China is bent on taking the leadership in carmaking by taking advantage of the revolution now taking shape in the industry. Japanese carmakers need to respond to China’s moves by developing electric vehicles that can compete favorably with rival Chinese offerings in this crucial market.