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Mar. 10, 2015 - Updated 04:16 UTC

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Startup Drives EV Revolution

Tsumugi Matsushima

Nov. 30, 2016

A Japanese startup is attracting global attention for its new electric supercar, and its unusual business model. The small Kyoto-based automaker is hoping to take on the giants of the industry.

The car was developed by venture firm GLM and made a big splash at the Paris Motor Show last month. The company is using a unique approach to production that is gaining attention beyond the auto industry.

The Paris Motor Show is held every 2 years. As environmental concerns increase, automakers from around the globe are putting extra emphasis on electric cars.

GLM's ecofriendly model, the G-4, has 4 doors that open up like wings. The vehicle boasts an impressive 540 horsepower. It compares favorably with other vehicles produced by international automakers.

"So it's refreshing and it's exciting to see something new and then when it's also a very beautiful looking car that is at the forefront of technology," said an Associated Press journalist at the event.

"For me it was a good surprise. I think it's one of the most interesting cars of the show," said a car designer from Studiotorino.

Hiroyasu Koma, the president of GLM, started the business 6 years ago when he was still a student at Kyoto University Graduate School. He raised about 27 million dollars from domestic and international funds including those in Saudi Arabia and Taiwan, and his firm achieved rapid growth.

Former chairman of Sony Corporation Nobuyuki Idei was among those who made an initial investment and supported the firm.

"I'm very happy because I have been involved in the company since the process of concept formation. Most auto companies are quite old, but this company is like a newborn," Ide says.

The development base of GLM is a small garage in Kyoto. The company has only 22 employees. What made development with such a small workforce possible was a revolutionary business model.

Conventional automakers tend to make decisions on their own, including those involving concept formation and parts design. And they place orders with subcontractors, keeping all the knowhow within their organization.

Because of its limited manpower, GLM collaborates with other makers. The firm offers to share its knowhow with other companies in exchange for their technological support as partners. GLM invited manufactures in and around Kyoto to contribute and more than 100 companies agreed to join forces.

"Sharing their technology with others would have never happened at major auto makers. GLM made it happen and successfully created the core system for electric vehicles through joint development with auto parts makers in Kyoto," Koma says.

The GLM business model is now attracting attention from companies unrelated to the auto industry.

Solina Chau, a senior official from a global investment firm, is looking to invest in GLM. The firm has supported the growth of Facebook and Skype.

Koma was introduced to a representative of an international artificial intelligence firm, one of many global company officials he met in Paris.

"To conquer the market quickly especially in Asia, we can't wait to build a factory for 3 to 5 years," Chau says.

If GLM can team up with more companies both financially and technologically, its potential will likely grow further.

"We feel the world is giving us the opportunities to produce vehicles. It's really exciting. To be honest, we feel this is the most interesting thing in the world," Koma says.


NHK World's Tsumugi Matsushima joins anchor Aki Shibuya in the studio.

Shibuya: GLM was a startup that began in a garage. How was it able to create such a high-tech supercar, even with the support of many firms?

Tsumugi: GLM's engineers came from leading automakers. They were attracted to the company's concept of making unique cars -- different from those popular among the masses. Their advanced skills and passion have given GLM an advantage.

Shibuya: Is GLM likely to expand its cooperation with global companies?

Tsumugi: GLM met with many overseas firms during the motor show in Paris. There's no doubt the connections it made will contribute to its business in the future. GLM is also trying to collaborate with companies in other industries to produce vehicles with unprecedented functions. Firms in the services and electronics businesses are interested in working with GLM.

Shibuya: What's next on GLM's agenda?

Tsumugi: Actually, the company is selling electric sports cars, but it hasn't made a profit yet. It still has to figure out a way to function as a business.