You think Japan is import-adverse? Have a look at that chart that follows, and you will see a wondrous trend: Japanese automakers are importing more and more foreign owned cars to Japan. Some of them even from the U.S. Now, the imports will increase. Not from the US, but from ….
Nissan has started shipping their March subcompact, made at its Thai plant, to Japan The Nikkei [sub] calls it “the first move by a Japanese carmaker to export a mainstay model to the home market.”
The success of the Thai-made car “will have huge implications for the future of Nissan and the Japanese auto industry as a whole,” says the paper. Bringing in cars from abroad is not unusual for a Japanese carmaker, as the table on the left shows. Those were niche models. The Nissan March (known outside Asia as the Nissan Micra) is a whole other story. That’s a volume model. With the Yen going higher and higher, and manufacturing costs in Japan not going down, bringing in a volume model from a low cost country is alluring.
It is also dangerous. Japanese consumers are feared and famous for their high standards. Most stuff on U.S. Walmart shelves would never get sold in Japan. To make sure that their made-in-Thailand cars pass muster, Nissan spent two years training Thai factory workers and tweaking the manufacturing process. Nearly 90 percent of the components for the Thai-made Marches are made in Thailand. That allowed Nissan to sell the car for around $11,000.
Even the cheapest car won’t sell and could turn into a time bomb if the quality is not there. Cars are literally double-checked as they roll off the line in Thailand. When they come off the boat in Japan, they are checked again at Nissan’s Oppama plant. We’ll see how it works out. A stringent quality process usually beats obsessive quality control. You want to avoid throwing stuff away or do costly rework. However, if Nissan pulls it off and can import high quality at low prices into a quality obsessed market, then there may be those huge implications. The Japanese might get very affordable cars. But could be out of a job. Sound familiar?