Foreign brands still minnows in Japanese car market

Picture expired. French auto giant Renault displays their concept model Dezir at the Tokyo Motor Show in Japan on November 21, 2013 AFP

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  • 12

    BurakuminDes

    Spotting a foreign car on Japanese streets is a rare sight—save for the odd luxury brand like Ferrari or Jaguar

    Who wrote this? From my window here I can see 2 Benzes in the carpark and a BMW amongst the Toyotas and Nissans. 1 in 20 cars being foreign does not really qualify as a "rare sight". It is a rare sight to see a Ferrari here, though.

  • 7

    It"S ME

    Everyday I see BMW, Mercedes, Opel, Audi, VW, Volvo, Mini(old and new). To a lesser extent Citroen, Fiat, Peugeot and luxury cars like jaguar, etc.

  • 7

    changamangaliay

    Japan is full of Audis, Benzes and BMWs.

  • 2

    pointofview

    Japanese buy Japanese. Haven`t figured that out yet?

  • 7

    StormR

    requiring firms to change the headlights on Japan-bound cars or install extra and costly electronics, they say

    Having the head lights changed is a safety issue so the lights shine to the left of the road away from the eyes of oncoming drivers, other countries also require this so what is the problem here?

    Instead of trying to shift the problem and the blame how about look at the real reasons why Japanese wont buy American cars en masse.

  • 3

    TorafusuTorasan

    Even if the comment was about the lack of Ford/Chevy/GM on the streets of Japan, I just saw a couple driving a newer Mustang over the weekend and I'm not someone who watches what people are driving.

  • -4

    pochan

    From my window here I can see 2 Benzes in the carpark and a BMW amongst the Toyotas and Nissans.

    Where do you live? If you live in a large metropolitan area you will see more luxury cars because there are more rich people. Most foreign cars in Japan are for the luxury market. It is a good thing that Japanese people prefer to buy Japanese cars but to pretend that Japan is awash with foreign cars is just plain dishonest. I saw someone wearing a pink jumpsuit the other day, therefore I am going to jump to the erroneous conclusion that pink jumpsuits are popular in Japan.

  • 6

    Ramzel

    From personal experience the car scene in Tokyo is very different from the rest of Japan. Within central Tokyo there are tons of foreign cars, mostly German.

    However, once you leave Tokyo, it is basically all Japanese cars. Even in Yokohama, it is much rarer to see foreign cars than here.

    The writer must live outside of Tokyo, or not pay attention to the road scene.

  • 5

    Meguroman

    Inaka is all white K-cars....practically. My area is almost foreign brands with the occasional Lexus.

  • 2

    Himajin

    If you live in a large metropolitan area you will see more luxury cars because there are more rich people.

    In other words you have to be rich to own one.

  • 1

    StormR

    So basically this article is stating that there is no change from last week when they wrote about foreign cars in Japan.

  • 2

    USNinJapan2

    The padded price tag and the inconvenience of maintenance service (dealer is out of town) aside, I like the fact that driving a foreign car in Japan is more exclusive than elsewhere. You don't have to drive a classic or exotic supercar to be stand out and be noticed on the road. I don't care how long I live in Japan, there's no way you'll catch me driving the ubiquitous white Toyota sedan...

  • -1

    PenBalako

    The US manufacturers have historically failed at selling cars in Japan because they refuse to sell cars that cater to the domestic market. Who wants to buy a cheaply made LHD sedan or a huge pickup truck here? Very few.

    The Swedes, Germans, French, and Italians sell cars that locals want to buy, either via luxury marques or via stylish cars. And with the exception of the rare top end car, they are sold in RHD.

  • 11

    Jean ValJean

    " Spotting a foreign car on Japanese streets is a rare sight…"

    Horse hockey. The writer must be a cavedweller or an agent of the Ministry of Disinformation. I can't count all the foreign cars where I live, and I'm nowhere near Tokyo.

    Utter rubbish.

  • 8

    gogogo

    Spotting a foreign car on Japanese streets is a rare sight

    Who wrote this? No it is not.

  • -1

    pochan

    If you live in a large metropolitan area you will see more luxury cars because there are more rich people. In other words you have to be rich to own one.

    Well obviously yes.

  • 1

    StormR

    There are many numerous foreign makes on the roads here, why just yesterday I travelled with a group of around 6 like minded people using foreign vehicles, Often you can see large groups of people using foreign vehicles together sometimes in groups of 20 up wards. Foreign made Motorcycles are popular here.

  • -3

    Pathmasekara Kumara

    the boycott of foreign brands shows how insignificant japan has become to the world economy,taking care of 1st and 2nd markets should be less hassle for them.

  • 3

    sourpuss

    I don't live in an average suburb, and commute further out to the sticks for work. I see probably 2 dozen or more German cars and maybe a handful from other countries every single day during that 40-minute trip.

    Interestingly, I had no idea vws sold at a loss. I drive one, myself.

  • 4

    PeaceWarrior

    Same here, I see European cars all the time. The thing that's been happening a lot to me lately though is when I am the only car without an automatic engine stop or hybrid engine when I stop at a light. It's really weird, having the only car still running when other cars are quiet, making no noise. Sign of the times.

  • 3

    Thunderbird2

    Japanese buyers do what buyers all over the place do - by their own brands. Add to that Japanese cars are well-built, reliable and are interesting to look at. After I passed my driving test (at the age of 49 lol) it was a no brainer for me to buy a Japanese car.

    I agree about foreign cars cropping up all over the place in Japan - I've seen plenty of Minis, Jags, Mercs and Beamers... and on Sundays, Lambos and Ferraris come out to play.

  • 3

    papasmurfinjapan

    “They sell at a loss.”

    VW sell at a loss? I thought they were already overpriced in Japan as it is.. I guess I was wrong.

    Like almost everyone else, my neighbourhood is full of Mercs, BMWs, Audis, VWs and believe it or not, Peugots. There are also plenty of Minis, Volvos, Fiats, Alfa Romeos, the odd Jag or Porsche Cayanne etc. I live in average middle class suburbia. Sure there are rich people, but many normal people are also driving foreign cars.

    What I rarely see are American and Korean cars, but they only have themselves to blame for choosing not to concentrate on the Japanese market.

  • -1

    lostrune2

    4.5%....... That's about the market share of Microsoft phones. And Volkswagen has to sell at a loss just to get a fraction of that.

  • 1

    StormR

    VW has been the No1 selling foreign car in Japan for a number of years Benz second and BMW third from memory. The Japanese don't want Korean cars as they are poorer quality than the American cars everyone knows that.

  • 0

    nikkeiboy

    It all depends on value. I think a lot of people would like to buy foreign, but the local cars are a better value and affordable. The reason you see a lot of Japanese cars in the US is that the consumers see the cars as good value, affordable, and reliable. I'm sure if you could buy a VW at the same price as a Honda then you would see more VW on the road. Japanese don't want to pay or can't afford the inflated prices of foreign cars. But I definitely agree with most comments that it is fairly common to see foreign cars on the streets of Tokyo.

  • 0

    gokai_wo_maneku

    Foreign companies, and the US in particular, neet to put more energy into selling cars and other products. Have you ever seen an advertisement for a US car? In my 3 decades of life, I have never seen one. Most Japanese don't even know who they are. Now look at fast food chains, clothes, bicycles, etc. Great success. And Wendy's is coming back. Yeah. They put energy into the Japanese market. US autos don't sell in US.

  • 1

    kwatt

    Foreign auto makers don't advertize well in Japan. I've never seen many commercials of foreign cars. I still don't know what is good/better about foreign cars. And foreign cars steering wheel should be on right side.

  • 0

    888naff

    Selling average Foreign cars in japan …like selling snow to Eskimos .

    ..over the last decade even the same Japanese model in say the European market is kited out/designed by the local engineers to a lower spec than Japan, let alone a non “Japanese” car. But sell a “prestige” car or something different image wise then maybe currently works in Japan.

  • 2

    darnname

    Like everyone else who actually lives in Japan, I see Mercedes, BMW's, Volvo and VW station wagons every minute or so on the road.

    I only see an American car every once in a while (maybe once a month?) and we all know why that is. Just look at how dreadful they look, for heaven's sake.

  • -1

    slumdog

    The Japanese don't want Korean cars as they are poorer quality than the American cars everyone knows that.

    You can't purchase what is not available. As to quality, Hyundai's Genesis won the Top Picks award by the US Consumer Reports, and was named the most dependable mid-sized premium car by JD Power.

    http://www.stuff.co.nz/motoring/news/9157889/Luxury-Korean-car-coming-to-NZ

  • 4

    StormR

    Korean ( Hyundai ) cars were available here for awhile previously, thing is no one wanted them so it was uneconomical to keep trying to sell them. When you have the best car makers in the world selling to you in your own country why would you even want to buy some one else's?

    Got steak at home why got out for hamburger?

  • -1

    lucabrasi

    "Got steak at home, why go out for hamburger?"

    Maybe for the nasty thrill of the cheap, dirty unknown ; )

  • 1

    SamuraiBlue

    One thing about American cars that they will never want to be reminded in the 70's they were the #1 importer by nation with 300,000 units imported annually mostly used for limos. They didn't what other car manufacturer that took their place, listen to their customers and improve their product.

  • -1

    Tessa

    Spotting a foreign car on Japanese streets is a rare sight—save for the odd luxury brand like Ferrari or Jaguar—a point underscored at the Tokyo Motor Show this week.

    My jaw nearly hit the ground when I read that. Foreign cars, especially German models and to a far lesser extent Swedish, French, and Italian are so ubiquitous where I'm living that it's actually a pleasant surprise to be offered a ride home in a Japanese car (although those are invariably either Prius or Lexus). When I see my young students off after school, the road outside the school gate is littered with Beamers, Volvos, Mercs, Audis, and the odd Peugeot. There's even one Dad who pulls up in a Porsche! Man, I wish he would give me a lift some day!

  • 1

    Waxman

    Slumdog - Korean cars are available, only people dont want to buy them, few years back they were cheap copies of Japanese models but now they are making better cars, but in a country where u have like ten makers already and a limited population, why would people risk their money to buy Korean cars which not popular and gives u no advantage on Japanese cars!! US cars still sell lot more here compared to Korean cars, but those US cars sales number are still tiny when compared to what other brands sell here like Audi, Benz or BMWs! Japanese car consumers are basically two types, first group is looking for economical car who get lots of choices of 660cc kei cars from local companies or hybrid like Prius or Aqua and Japanese are top makers of economical cars worldwide, they hardly get any competition!! Even just compare new Mazda CX-5 diesel with others, its best economical SUV! The second group is looking for luxury cars and they prefer to buy foreign brand to show off they are rich, and there is no limit what many rich people can spend, thats the reason people with deep pockets prefer imported German cars which not only cost lot more to maintain but visit mechanic for troubles lot more than Japanese cars!

  • -2

    Mike45

    The only way for U.S. automakers and other suppliers to penetrate Japan is to beat the Japanese at their own game. recruit a japanese design engineer who will jump ship, attend the trade shows and put a prototype in Japan. This article is right; its too much effort and the Japanese have it easy in the U.S. The Japanese are a unique customer, but will buy foriegn if you design something they want. FTA must be enforced as well, otherwise the playing field isnt fair and U.S. makers dont have a chance. Interesting how Japanese automakers can move factories to the U.S. and make a profit while U.S. domestic makers fail and lay off and Detroit goes bankrupt. Something is all screwy with that. I never see any investigative reporting about that. Japanese also have completely raped the U.S. distribution network while U.S. hardly have any presence in Japan.

  • 0

    slumdog

    Got steak at home why got out for hamburger?

    I get the analogy very well and I also agree Japanese cars are great without a doubt. In fact, Japanese products in general are great. However, you do see other countries breaking into markets such as electronics with lower prices and decent quality. If Korean cars are available at a competitive price in today's market, I think you would see decent sales. Of course, the cars would have to be right hand drive. It takes a lot of time to break into any new market. Perhaps Hyundai just did not see the value in attempting it on a serious level?

    My main contention with your post was to quality. Korean car quality has improved greatly as has their reputation and their sales abroad.

  • 2

    JoiceRojo

    VW has been the No1 selling foreign car in Japan for a number of years Benz second and BMW third from memory. The Japanese don't want Korean cars as they are poorer quality than the American cars everyone knows that.

    It seems that you are referring as VW, Mercedes Benz and BMW as "American", the comparison should be made between Korean brands like Hyundai (it was a surprise to me because i thought it was Japanese) Kia, Samsung, SSangyong and American brands like Ford, Chrysler and Chevrolet...

    A big difference that I have noticed is that American brands are more inclined to create huge vehicles, like Ford explorer, Chrysler Pacifica and a wide range of pick ups in Chevrolet and Dodge... these vehicles are expensive in terms of gas consumption, whereas their Japanese competition does have these models or similar and they have lower consumption rates.

    On the other hand, Americans are not fond of city cars, whereas European brands like Volvo - (which is not German BTW), Volkswagen, citröen, peugeot and others) they do have city cars, cars for luxury and also cheaper cars, the thing is that with all the regulations and other laws in Europe, they are not cheap making it difficult to compete with Japanese cars and with only a couple of more amenities than Japanese cars... So the market for them is the luxury market, brands like Mercedes Benz, audi, volvo they are on a more "equal" foot than Japanese brands, but they are selling mostly the brand than the car...

  • 0

    SuperLib

    4.5% of the market and people are still saying it's a quality issue.....LOL!

  • 2

    avigator

    Why bring sand to the beach?

  • 2

    Serrano

    "Ford boss Alan Mulally has been more blunt, accusing Tokyo of manipulating the yen’s sharp decline over the past year to gain another trade advantage"

    Oh good grief, Ford would like the yen to go back to 80 to the dollar, wouldn't they?

  • -2

    CGB Spender

    Foreign cars are rare but occasionally you'll spot them. Like I've saw a Citroen 2CV some days ago.

  • -1

    chucky3176

    They did try, but they sold like 300 cars when they were in Japan for 10 years. Hyundai withdrew from from Japan in 2009. The Japanese consumers will not give Korean brands a chance. They firmly believe Korean brands are inferior because the people are inferior. I got that impression from reading all the Japanese netizen comments. Japan is the only country in the world where Korean brands can't sell a single item. You go anywhere in the world, like Germany where quality made German products are famous, brands like Hyundai and Samsung are ubiquous. Even if you got the worst quality product in the world, BY CHANCE OR BY FLUKE, you'll still end up selling more than 300 cars in ten years. Korean made cars are poor quality, unsafe, and worse than American? Why don't you ask JD Powers, Consumer Reports, American Highway Organization, if that's all true. Only in close minded Japanese consumer minds that is true, and that is why Japanese electronic and chip making companies are getting their pants beaten off by the Koreans - because of their arrogance and refusal to notice the serious competition coming out of just across the sea.

    Perhaps Hyundai just did not see the value in attempting it on a serious level? My main contention with your post was to quality. Korean car quality has improved greatly as has their reputation and their sales abroad.

  • -3

    Raymond Chuang

    I think another thing discouraging foreign cars in Japan is the fact even Tokyo and Osaka have many narrow streets that discourage the ownership of a foreign car. Indeed, A vehicle most appropriate for the Japanese market would be something like a Honda Fit (known as the Jazz in Europe and Australia)--roomy on the inside but physically small on the outside so you can drive on the narrow streets of Japanese cities. Sure, the Europeans have their very small cars, but the substantial import duty taxes would make them not price competitive against the equivalent Japanese model (I can imagine how much a Volkswagen Up! would cost in Japan!).

  • 0

    Nenad Jovanović

    Heh, same thing, I was thinking too Hyundai is Japan car , lol , but, I live in Bosnia , its in Balkans , and we here got mostly german cars too , because of their quality , but recently french cars are much more popular then they used to be ( because they are so well designed , even if their quality isnt at same level as german ones ) while american cars in Europe are mostly in form of Ford cars from factory in Britain , or , in recent form of Chewrolet badged Daewoo cars ( its funny to think that GM got saved by the American-Canadian governments from overtaking by the forein auto industry , while at same time GM overtake other cary manufacturing plants in other countries , thats not fair play , thats " if you loose a game , we will overtake you , but if we lose game , we will get saved , because we are backed by the USA ") American goverment is more and more opresive , they talked big talk how free marked should be , while at same time, they are the ones that want to dictate what and where will be sol, they did that when they put limit on imports of Japan cars in 1980 in US , today Japan cars that are sold in US are mostly build in America, so, I dont get it, why they dont make plant of their cars in Japan ?

  • 4

    TokyoGas

    I live in Ota-ku and within a short bicycle ride of my apartment there are dealerships/sales lots for Volkswagon, Mercedes, Ferrari and other foreign brands and TESLA has a garage down the street from me.

  • 6

    ebisen

    Amazingly, after filling this article with some BS, the author fails to mention that Volkswagen Golf 7 was given the prestigious "Japan car the year 2013 - 2014" title at the now on-going Tokyo Motor Show. This is the first time this title is awarded an importer.

    Talk about writing with no research.

  • 2

    overchan

    Duh duh. In many countries Most cars are japanese

  • 1

    overchan

    I owned a hyundai accent back in 2001 and a kia sorento 2007. Both died really quickly. Thesorento was the worst with a engine swap at 80k miles. I would say not more koreans for me. Maybe someone who drives 20 miles @ day but I use quality. And they are mostly from Japan.

  • 3

    StormR

    Raymond Chuang

    but the substantial import duty taxes

    Where do you get your info from? As far as I know there is no import duty on incoming cars. It was even reported in the news recently.

  • 1

    samuraivunyl

    quoteSpotting a foreign car on Japanese streets is a rare sight...what???????? is this guy blind????? volvos, audis, vws, minis, bmws, porsches, alfas everywhere! this guy needs an eye test before he( or she) even considers getting behind the wheel again...if the poor sod cant tell the difference between a prius and a v50, god help the poor pedestrians he(she) has been mistaking for electricity poles...

  • 4

    gonemad

    Ok, let's compare some numbers. Volkswagen has about 2.7% market share in the US, while in Japan it is about 0.85%. Considering that there is little overlap in the model palette with American competitors while they're directly competing with almost any of the Japanese makers, the result is quite decent. The figures for BMW including Mini are pretty similar, 2.5% in the US versus 0.8% in Japan.

    On the other hand, Toyota market share in Germany is about 2.5%, Nissan 2.1%. I have chosen Germany as an example because like Japan and the US, Germany has a competitive local car industry. In other countries without local brands the share figure can be significantly different.

    All mentioned makers have local production in the US or Europe and sell localized versions developed specifically for their target market. This is not the case with Japan, where no foreign maker has any plant or sells versions which specifically target Japanese tastes only. The sales of German cars in Japan have a CAGR above 10% since many years.

    All these figures do not support the claim that the Japanese market is closed with the exception perhaps that there might be barriers to set up local manufacturing plants in Japan.

    With regard to Korean cars in Japan, I think the Korean makers started too early, at a time when they couldn't yet compete on quality or features, but only - theoretically - on price. All that at a time when the Japanese economy was still in a state where not so many buyers were looking for the cheapest option on the market. I wrote 'theoretically' before, because when you sell only small quantities and have to allocate logistics costs on those quantities, you have to be a lot cheaper in manufacturing when you still want to be cheaper than the local Japanese makers. Or you have the staying power to incur losses for many years until you reach a sufficient market share. Obviously this was not possible. Even though by objective means the quality level is on par with Japanese makers in the meantime, Korean makers would still have to fight an uphill battle against old perceptions or prejudices when they enter the Japanese market again. It seems they feel the time is not ripe yet.

  • 1

    wontond

    Japan is full of Audis, Benzes and BMWs.

    In the car world, those are considered luxury brands.

  • 0

    ebonyninja

    I recall back in the 80's when cars were beginning to become popular among the average Japanese person, and not just the wealthy, and American cars were VERY popular to the point that military people were selling their used vehicles that they brought to Japan for profit. Cadillacs, Corvettes, Mustangs, etc. were all the rage. I recall the one thing that made the American cars unpopular back then was that American automobiles were the only vehicles that did not have amber turning signals on the rear of the vehicle and that was the standard in most countries. So a person would have to install secondary amber turning signals onto their brand new American vehicle. It always looked tacky! And no one likes a tacky look when it comes to their treasured "ride". American automakers did not want to conform to the ways of the world, and the other matter was right-hand drive option.

  • 0

    sfjp330

    U.S. auto companies have export problems to Japan and they have given up. In Japan, Keiretsu is a form of corporate structure in which a number of Japanese companies link together, usually by taking small stakes in each other and usually as a result of having a close business relationship, often as suppliers to each other. The structure, was a way to defuse the traditionally adversarial relationship between buyer and supplier. If you own a bit of your supplier, reinforced sometimes by your supplier owning a bit of you, the theory says that you are more likely to reach a way of working that is of mutual benefit to you both than if your relationship is at arm’s length. U.S. auto companies disliked Japan’s keiretsu because they saw them as a restraint of trade. keiretsu restrains trade because there is a very strong preference to do business only with someone in that Japanese family. In Japan the keiretsu were regulated by specific laws, and they were structured in such a way that cooperation between them was almost compulsory. People talk about how successful BMW and Mercedes is, but in reality, it's a drop in the bucket when BMW sells slightly over 20,000 vehicles a year in Japan.

  • -2

    papasmurfinjapan

    Actually right now I wish Hyundai would start selling in Japan again. The Hyundai Veloster is the best looking small car on the road, and the new Genesis sedan is up there with the best with regards to quality. Korean car manufacturers have really come a long way in the past 10 years.

    Mechanically Japanese cars may be great, but Mazda is the only company that has any idea about styling.

  • 3

    Harry_Gatto

    In the year ending March 2013 BMW Japan sold 41,635 BMW cars and 15,903 MINI cars.

    VW sold 57,626; MB 42,838; Audi 25,188; Volvo 14,051.

    Hyundai 104; Ssangyong 2.

    Jeep 4,956; Ford 4,009; Chevrolet 1,443; Cadillac 1,351; Hummer 180; GMC 100.

    Source JAIA.

  • 0

    presto345

    Yes, who wrote this nonsense phrase, 'Spotting a foreign car on Japanese streets is a rare sight'. The percentages may say something, but driving in a city in western Japan I see plenty of imports daily: Mercedes, Volkswagen, Audi, Volvo, BMW, Citroen. Lots of German cars. The Japanese, in choosing an import, like German cars, it seems. Japan seems to be the only Asian country that created a competitive automobile industry.

  • 0

    AustPaul

    I guess cars that are fuel efficient, compact and stylish are important for Japanese consumers. Hence some of the European brands..

    I note some American cars are quite the gas guzzlers and too big, I saw an F250 here (Perth) today that looked monstrous and once saw a Hummer in Tokyo which took up two parking spaces!

  • 0

    JoiceRojo

    Mechanically Japanese cars may be great, but Mazda is the only company that has any idea about styling.

    You may be right.. off all Japanese brands I choose Mazda because their cars design are simply beautiful

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