By on November 14, 2010

Ur-Turn is your weekly opportunity to contribute to TTAC. Every Weekend we select a piece submitted to our contact form, and publish it as a showcase for the diverse perspectives of TTAC’s readers.  Today’s contribution comes from Nick Naylor, who explores the street-level reality of American cars in Asia, and the prospects of American exports to Asia.

As a frequent TTAC poster and lifelong enthusiast, some of my favorite topics and articles are the ones in which vehicles are found outside their cultural context. Paul’s classic Mustang on the streets of Paris, for example, struck me as a particularly beautiful image. “Real” American cars are of special interest to me—cars designed predominately for the North American market, built there, and exported. You don’t see too many of these outside of North America–for a myriad of reasons I need not get into here. That said, when I see a Cadillac, or an American Ford product in an Asian or European city—it invokes a similar feeling to what Paul experienced seeing the Ford and the Hummer in Paris. In this time of Obama’s pledge to double exports in 5 years, with cars being a particular sticking point with Korea, it is American made vehicles that he must be most interested in selling, not Chinese-made Chevy Sails. Is it possible?

With this on my mind, and camera in hand; I recently spent three weeks between China (Hong Kong and Guangdong province), Korea (Seoul) and Japan (Tokyo). What I observed follows below. There’s no reports, sales numbers, or data here…just observations and supporting photos.

Hong Kong: There are zero American cars in Hong Kong. Not just zero real exports, but zero brands. I don’t recall seeing a single GM, Ford, or Chrysler vehicle. Of course, Hong Kong drives on the other side of the road, and with a population of 7 million or so, the city represents a limited market in a crowded metropolis. Basically every car is Japanese or high-end European. Not so promising so far!

Shenzhen/Guangzhou (China): Across the border, and the whole world changes. Back on our side of the road. I see Buicks, Chryslers, a few Cadillac CTSs, a new Cadillac SRX, even a 90’s Lincoln Town Car (how the hell they drive that or get it serviced, I don’t know) [Ed: Panther Love is a strange and wonderful thing]. Hummer H2s appear here and there. There’s even an occasional Dodge Caliber. None of these vehicles appear in the same copious volume as local Volkswagens, Buicks, Audis, etc. But I did count about ten sightings of the Enclave in only a week or so here. The Enclave is an export from the states, the only Buick sold in China that is.

The Buick lineup in China is similar to ours, with the exceptions of the smaller Opel Astra-based Excelle, the Holden-based Park Avenue and the GL8 minivan. Uncharacteristically for GM, this brand seems very coherent as a mid-upscale aspirational brand in China. Their new models look classy, sharp, and stand out on the streets in China noticeably. But only the Enclave counts as being a true American export. Chevy has taken up GM’s battle for the massive low end of the Chinese market, and as a result every Chevy you see is a warmed over Daewoo. So no Chevys count for this practice—neither do Fords, as their familiar Fiestas, Focii and Mondeos are not of the American kind either (though they’re vastly better than the Chevys–the Chinese must think the two brands don’t compete directly). It is likely that neither the Chrysler 300 or Sebring are exports, either, both supposedly are assembled in Beijing. According to Wikipedia, the Caliber is only produced in Illinois, and the CTS was only assembled by Shanghai GM in 2006, and although it is apparently assembled from CKD kits in Taiwan and Russia, I would guess the units seen on the streets of here are likely US exports, or possibly the Taiwan CKD versions.

You see plenty of American branded cars in China. The Chinese auto market is much more similar to the US market than either the Japanese or Korean. You see a lot of Camrys and Accords, only slightly modified from their US versions. The Chinese are quite open to a variety of brands and styles, and the market is still so new that brand-based prejudices buried deep within the US consumer conscience have yet to be set there. They are not averse to buying big cars for their big new highways…In addition to the H2s I also saw (American made) BMW X6s there, in more numbers than I’ve seen here in the states. That said, compared to the overall size of the market, our exports are miniscule. If Obama wants to export more US made cars to China, then he better push the Buick Enclave, Dodge Caliber, Cadillacs, and yes, BMW SUV’s.

Korea: My eyes tell me that 98% of cars on the road in Korea are Korean. And all of them are black, white, or grey. Yet I can’t believe what I see when I do see a foreign car…yes, BMW, Honda, and….is that a Lincoln MKS? The high-end German cars seem to be the most popular imports, but then you see almost as many American cars as Japanese, which, given the lack of exportable American cars vis-a-vis the Japanese, is quite surprising. Maybe it’s just the fact that the American cars stand out, and the Japanese blend in so much with the local Korean makes? I saw Lincoln MKX’s, Ford Taurii, Ford Escapes, a new Cadillac CTS wagon. And I’m not counting the large amount of American SUV’s I saw near the military base. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t see these cars frequently, but there seems to be sufficient “market access” to American cars in Korea. The problem with selling to the Koreans is breaking their super-conservative culture, which dictates that a good Korean only buys a Korean car, and one in black, white, or grey. Americans no longer think like that, and maybe in 30 years the Koreans won’t, either.

Japan: In Korea, the American cars I saw were actually bought for practical use. In Japan, the American cars you see tend to be kept more as hobby or museum pieces. In Tokyo proper I saw one beautiful, jacked-up 4-door new Wrangler, one or two current generation Ford Explorers, one Jeep Liberty, and one 90’s era Chevy Blazer. Then I took the train out to Enoshima, which is a bohemian beach town suburb of Tokyo, where love for California culture runs deep. This place was a jackpot…here I saw classic old Ford Broncos and Chevy Blazers in beautiful condition, jacked up with surf racks. A 2005-era F150 with huge rims. A Ford Mustang, and even a late 80’s Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera woody station wagon. Cool.

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43 Comments on “Ur-Turn: American Cars In Asia: A Layman’s Observations...”


  • avatar
    quiksilver180

    Amazing piece. Thanks!

  • avatar

    Good Job!

  • avatar
    Sam P

    Sounds like China (being the most emerging market) has the most potential for American-built vehicles to establish a beachhead. That having been said, there’s nothing to stop BMW from eventually assembling the X6 in their joint venture with Brilliance in Dongbei, just like they do with the non-M 3er for the Chinese market.
     
    South Korea will be a tough nut to crack because of the ultra-conformist culture (even by Asian standards). If a Korean living in Korea decides to get a non-Korean car, he or she usually gets a German import (if they can afford one).
     
    Great photos. The Japanese have the best taste.

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      Japan is the “tougher nut to crack” for the American automakers.

      Even tho the Germans and Japanese (at one point, Honda was the best selling import brand in Korea) sell better in Korea, it’s largely due to a no. of models being sold under the GM Daewoo brandname.

      As long as the American manufacturers make models that appeal to the Korean market, they can increase their marketshare.

      Otoh, the Japanese tend to have an opinion that Japanese products are the best; the one thing that Japan does have is a niche market for classic or unusual American autos.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Thanks for an enjoyable piece. Happy sleuthing.

  • avatar
    vww12

    What happens if the Chinese mass market ever gets the impression U.S. cars are subpar in quality, design or reliability?  This is what happened Stateside to Citroen, Renault, Peugeot, Alfa, and FIAT.
    To this day, the French and Italian auto industries, large in their home markets, remain absent in the U.S.  Yes, the cognoscenti sometimes lust after a C6, Laguna, 607, 8C, or Bravo, but really, would the mass market ever go after a Grande Punto or a 207?
    Sorry to be a pessimist, but I see the exact same thing happening to the U.S. brands in China.

    • 0 avatar
      NN

      In China, the domestic Chinese brands are the subpar brands in the parameters you mention.  It will be a very long time until the day comes that those are considered better than US makes.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    What no pictures of the Cutlass wagon?!?!?!?!?

    • 0 avatar
      NN

      Oh believe me…I would have taken a photo of that had I could.  I only saw it cross an intersection up ahead (it was actually running), and it appeared and disappeared within 2 or 3 seconds–not quick enough for me to draw the camera.  But there was no mistaking what it was.

  • avatar
    blowfish

    What happens if the Chinese mass market ever gets the impression U.S. cars are subpar in quality, design or reliability?  This is what happened Stateside to Citroen, Renault, Peugeot, Alfa, and FIAT.

    That can happen, anything is possible.

    a few things can save them

    cars built or assemble there could be much more thorough, so car tend to last much longer.

    they dont drive as fast as long, hard as we do it here. Here treat them as a tool, trade them every few yrs, there they tend to  keep them very long so people will service & fix them. Unlike here we can put pedal to metal for very long time.

    they generally have a feeling that USA products are better, see how long can we fool them.

    some of them still have the impression of old buicks from the 40s , as good reliable cars, hope their impressions stay that way.

    I have to say if Guan Dong motors ca sell cars like hot cakes , GM got to have majority of the issues licked or not surface.
    Perhaps those export models are better detailed & assembled , as if RR treated US as Colonial market then.

    • 0 avatar

      They abuse the crap out of cars here.  Driving here is not heavily regulated like it is in the US. The roads here are a literal free-for-all and a hair raising adventure to people from teh States. They gun them, they brake hard and they put their cars wherever they will fit and drive wherever they can.  Conditions here in mainland China are very hard on cars.   I have never been to a place where horns and flash-to-pass are routinely used on every car trip.

      Also, US cars are very well built contrary to what many in the US think.  China is also getting the best US vehicles we have put out which are very competitive with what Japan offers here and the Chinese buy them.  It’s not because they are stupid, it’s because GM and Ford are offering excellent products and choices here.

    • 0 avatar
      NN

      TriShield–excellent points.  I hardly saw any cars that looked to be 10 years old…cars age really fast there in China due to all the fender benders, insane driving, parking conditions, etc.  A 5 year old car in China looks like a 12 year old car here in the states–regardless of make.

  • avatar
    dwford

    In the past the Big 3 didn’t get too into exporting US made cars, they weren’t willing to put the effort in to alter the cars for foreign markets, and really, the cars were so junky no one would have bought them anyway. US built cars ARE being exported in small numbers to quite a few different countries (go on http://www.ford.com and click the international link – you’ll be surprised where US built Fords are going). Now, however, with the Big 3 commonizing platforms worldwide, there is real export potential, as US plants become part of the global manufacturing base, instead of being outside it. It is much easier to see the Cruze, the new Aveo, the new Focus, etc being exported since they are now identical to the cars sold elsewhere. This can only help our exports. If the government was to rationalize our emissions and safety rules with the EU, Japan, Korea etc, then the Big 3 would have a much easier time exporting.

  • avatar
    amca

    For many years, even up into the ’90s, I used to see first generation Cadillac Sevilles in Europe.

  • avatar
    AaronH

    Detroit built absoute crap 10 years ago…Nobody with an IQ above 80 would consider them so why should anyone outside of USA when they have access to the best the world had to offer. Today Detroit uses designs from Asia and Europe which are extremely world-class competitive. Grand Ams and such would never sell anywhere outside USA midwest…The Colbalt was just starting to get competitve and now GM has the world-class Cruze (designed in Asia and Europe). Detroit will build the products in the markets they sell to so “exporting” is really just tired old Obama violent-socialist-parasite/Liberal 5-year-plan stupidity/wetdream.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      Detroit built absoute crap 10 years ago…Nobody with an IQ above 80 would consider them...
       
      The 1993 Pontiac Bonneville that my family owned with a 3800V6 running 200,000+ miles with nothing more than oil changes (my father didn’t even change the transmission fluid) would beg to differ.  Dad bought it at about 50,000 miles and gave it to my sister at about 120,000 miles.  That car certainly wasn’t crap and it survived the abuse she and two young children doled out for many years.

    • 0 avatar
      Sam P

      “Detroit built absoute crap 10 years ago…Nobody with an IQ above 80 would consider them so why should anyone outside of USA when they have access to the best the world had to offer”
       
      Parents have a 1995 Jeep Grand Cherokee with 173k miles on the 4.0 liter Six and 4-speed automatic. Both original. Still going strong.
       
      ” Detroit will build the products in the markets they sell to so “exporting” is really just tired old Obama violent-socialist-parasite/Liberal 5-year-plan stupidity/wetdream.”
       
      Well, I can’t predict what Detroit will do down the road, but Mercedes-Benz and BMW produce vehicles in the USA for global consumption, and export them from American to distributors around the world.
      Mercedes builds the ML, GL, and R classes in Alabama: http://mbusi.com/
      BMW builds the X3, X5, and X6 in South Carolina: http://www.bmwusfactory.com/

    • 0 avatar
      Monty

      AaronH – are you implying that the tens of millions of Americans who purchased Detroit products in the decade prior were all developmentally challenged?

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      Don’t know why you guys bother to respond to “Archie Bunker the meathead”…its pointless to engage somebody who makes Rush Limbaugh seem open to meaningful dialogue…
       
      I recall seeing quite a few American vehicle when I traveled to Europe.  I am more in tune to this kind of thing than most, but there was quite a variety.  I had expected to see Vettes, Camaros and the like and I was not disappointed in that regard but what did surprise me is that there were quite of few basic stuff that I just could not see importing to Europe.  On my trip in the late ’80s I saw quite a few K cars and things like that.  Why bother?  I actually saw a Volare.  Rusted as all hell but there is was.  So I am not surprised by your seeing something like a Cutlass Ciera

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      I think 10 years ago things were starting to look up for Detroit, now 25 years ago it was all junk. I think at this point the quality is similar across all makes, but the Americans still don’t make any designs that I would want to drive. Probably the closest thing is my car, a Saab 9-3 SportCombi. Plenty of GM parts, but used in a very Swedish arrangement.

      And, just because you bought a piece of crap car and it lasted 200K miles does not make it any less of a piece of crap. Reliability and durability are not everything, or we would all drive nothing but Corollas and Camrys. I would rather walk than drive a boring appliance.

  • avatar
    mtypex

    The Mustang in Paris thing is a bit odd, but what about, say, an Acura Integra in Oakland County, Michigan?
    But seriously, when in Paris, take photos of Citroens and Peugeots.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      I did:
      http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/10/le-curbside-classic-citroen-ami-8/
      http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/10/le-curbside-classic-citroen-h-van/
      http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/10/le-curbside-classic-renault-r4/
      Did you miss them?

  • avatar

    Interesting article. Did you travel to these places solely for the story?

    Here are some stats from the Korean Automobile Manufacturers Association to support your observations about German cars being the most popular imports in Korea:

    October car sales in Korea:

    Number of cars: 140,731
    Number of imports: 8,022 (5.7%)
    Number of domestics: 132,709 (94.3%) 

    Top-selling imports:

    1. BMW 520D (603 units)
    2. M-B E300 (471 units)
    3. VW Golf 2.0 TDI (385)
    4. BMW 320D (381 units)
    5. BMW 528 (356 units)

    That’s close to 30% of all import car sales in Korea being German cars (and probably 99% of those being white, black, or silver LOL).

    Keep in mind that these stats are just for one month, but they are fairly typical of other months.

    The best-selling American car (for October) was the Ford Taurus 3.5. It ranked #9 with sales of 177 units.

    For the record, a Ford Taurus 3.5 has an MSRP of about $35,000 USD in Korea. A comparably-equipped Sonata has an MSRP of about $25,000 USD. The tariff on imported cars is 8.5%, yet the Taurus costs nearly 40% more than a Sonata. Could this be one of the reasons why American cars are unpopular in Korea?

    Combine that price discrepency with lower fuel economy,  inconvenient service, and higher yearly automobile tax because of larger displacement engines and it’s easy to see why American cars are unpopular in Korea and will remain that way.

  • avatar
    TonyJZX

    there are lots of american cars where i am but it’s all the enthusiasts… the best of detroit
    Mustangs, Corvettes, big F250 tow vehicles and classic from the 60s and 70s

  • avatar
    BMWfan

    Well written, and very enjoyable. Thanks!

  • avatar
    Trend-Shifter

    “Today’s contribution comes from Nick Naylor, who explores the street-level reality of American cars in Asia, and the prospects of American exports to Asia.”

    Hey Nick,
    This also sparks my interest.  I spend a lot of time in Hong Kong & mainland China. 
    In my opinion American cars are very viable in mainland China.  Correct side drive and the Chinese seem to embrace similar lifestyle vehicles.   It is not the Japanese model.  
    US exported vehicles would go miles to correct the trade imbalances.   

    It is the late 50′s all over again in China and US automakers have an opportunity to recreate that youthful market of the 60′s.    Fun cars at affordable pricing.   US automakers have the opportunity to create a negative stereotype of Mercedes, BMW, & Audi owners.   Old & stodgy should be the word.     

    As an example Ford should be exporting V6 Mustangs and selling them at low cost as halo cars to build the Ford brand.  It doesn’t need to be a musclecar era re-birth, just life style vehicles.    Next throw the new Explorer or Flex into the mix.  
       
    To do that the US goverment needs to break down every trade barrier that raises the price or limits market access.    Market access should be our focus, not creating future barriers on our side.   

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      Presently, the only import autos that the Chinese would buy regardless of the steep import tariffs are German luxury autos (specifically, the higher end models) and exotics.

      Yes, the Chinese buy “American” (specifically GM and more specifically, Buick), but almost all the American autos the Chinese purchase are assembled in China.

  • avatar

    Funny this piece is published today as I am currently in China and have been for the past week.

    Right now I am in Changsha.  I flew into Hong Kong and stayed across the border in Shenzhen.

    There are American products everywhere in China, not just cars either.  But since this is a blog about cars I will keep it to my observations.

    Buick is everywhere here.  Many of them are rebadged Suzukis (from when GM had a stake in Suzuki) and Daewoos.  Many of them are also US engineered Buicks we are all familiar with.  The 97-03 Regal is everywhere here (and later ones tweaked for Chinese tastes).  The first LaCrosse is also common here but uses different front and rear fascia.  The current LaCrosse is also here and virtually unchanged. 

    The Regal badged Opel Insignia is also a common sight.  I have seen a couple of Excelle GT badged Opel Astras, they are very premium looking, it baffles me GM won’t offer it in the US and instead we get the upcoming Excelle sedan as the Verano, which is every bit as ugly in person as it is in photos (and badly named). 

    I have seen two Holden rebadged Park Avenues.  They are huge, they are stately and extremely classy looking.  The interior appears to be one of GM’s best and would easily eclipse every Cadillac model in the US.  Which is probably why they don’t sell it in the US, but they should as I have always said.  It is a proper Park Avenue and a great Buick name we need back.  I have also seen a few Enclaves, they are not changed from the US version as far as I can tell.

    Chevrolets appear popular here as well.  Most of them are Daewoos.  Some Chinese that I have talked to are very familiar with the Camaro because of Transformers (Autobot/Decepticon logos are on cars here), it seems like the V6 Camaro would be a hit. 

    All Fords here (and there aren’t many) are the German kind we wish we had in the US.  Most of them current Mondeos.  Many Focii, a couple of new Fiestas. 

    I have also seen a few Chrysler products.  The Jeep Wrangler four door, Chrysler minivans and Dodge Calibers, less common than many other vehicles but China could be a good market for Chrysler to get into with some help.  I could see the Charger and 300 in numbers on these roads here.

    USDM Honda Accords and Toyota Camrys are popular as well. 

    That’s about all I can right at the moment, but it’s good to see a big embrace of American cars in a very foreign land.  I wish as Americans we would buy more of our own cars from Ford, GM and Chrysler, all of them produce a few good vehicles.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree. American cars in China make sense. It’s a big and potentially lucrative market, with lots of room for growth.

      American cars in Korea makes little sense to me and I don’t know why Ford, Obama, et al. are even bothering with it. Simply put, the Korean market is too small and has zero room for growth. Hell, even the Korean manufacturers recognize that as they all but ignore Koreanconsumers in favor of exports. Last month Hyundai/Kia sold about 106,000 cars in Korea, but they exported 425,000! And you can’t even get cruise control as an option on a Sonata in Korea!

    • 0 avatar
      Trend-Shifter

      I am in Shenzhen right now and do travel frequently in China to visit my suppliers. 
      I noticed the mix of American cars, Japanese cars, German cars, & domestic cars is very regional.  

      The other thing is the HIGH costs they pay in China for these vehicles.  
      When I talk about the price of a comparible vehicle in the US they are shocked at the lower cost difference.   

  • avatar
    WaftableTorque

    In Ho Chi Minh City, I was seeing the newest Ford Escape and Mustang, the Mississippi built Infiniti QX56 (surprising considering the invisibility of Nissan in this market), numerous BMW X5′s and Mercedes R-Class, and the occasional Town Car.
    Still, American-sourced cars are very rare.

  • avatar
    OliverTwist

    One of my hobbies is to take photos of the North American built GM and Ford as well as Chrysler vehicles on the streets in Europe and Australia. Many of them have the requisite ECE safety equipments (amber turn signal indicators in the taillamps, side turn signal repeaters, give-way external mirrors, different seat belts, tow hooks at both ends, and like). I have accumulated the considerable collection of photos.
     
    They are surprisingly common than you think in certain areas, especially in the Switzerland. In the early 1980s, my parents and I visited a shopping mall in a town outside Zürich. What amazed me the most was about 40% of vehicles there were North American GM vehicles. Last May, I saw a pristine 1982 Oldsmobile 98 Regency in Chur, Switzerland. The condition was astounding like new. Yes, top half of the taillamps is coloured amber, and headlamps are H4 and H1 variety (replacing the crappy sealed beam units).
     
    You can sometimes see a sizable number of North American GM and Ford vehicles at the car events or swap meet. When I visited Australia, there was an appreciably large devotion to the Yankee tanks.
     
    If the United States could get its head out of the proverbial sand and adopt UN-ECE international automotive safety regulations, the vehicles would be cheaper by about $2.000 per unit in engineering and manufacturing cost. In addition, GM and Ford could easily and quickly rearrange the model ranges to meet the demand in real time rather than two or three years later and at cost of millions of dollars to homologate and certify the for “isolationist” US regulations.

    • 0 avatar
      Roundel

      Funny you mention that. Whenever I am abroad I am attuned to things like that. When I was kid, I was so surprised by the amount of Jeeps and Chrysler minivans I saw. I was so confused when I saw a Wrangler with amber turns.
      I would love all those “global” regulations to be adopted here. They just make sense, especially lighting regulations. I am not sure why the Big 3 really haven’t pushed for something that would clearly lower their costs.

  • avatar
    Whuffo2

    Hey, I’ve got something to add to this discussion – I moved to the Philippines about 4 months ago and am living in the Metro Manila area.
    I see a rare Ford Everest on the road – once I saw an Excursion. But they’re very rare; what the roads are full of are Toyota Vios and Honda City cars. The taxis are largely Toyota Corollas and other makes (Mercedes, BMW, etc.) are very few and far between. There’s lots of Toyota Revos (Tamaraws – a small SUV) and some large minivans; Hyundai Starex for example.
    There’s a displacement limit here: no cars with more than 2.8 liters are allowed. That’s not as bad as it sounds, though – it’s surprising how perky a smaller engine can be.
    But much of what GM and Ford make don’t sell here – that 2.8 limit and the narrower streets make the American vehicles less than desirable here. A Toyota Camry is a large car here – and even the smaller cars are very well equipped. Sure, a Camry with a 2.5 isn’t a hot rod but if you’ve ever seen what the traffic in Manila looks like you’d understand that it’s more than sufficient.
    American cars are very well suited to American roads – but not every country is like America and their cars won’t sell here no matter how much they’d like them to.

  • avatar
    tmkreutzer

    I think this article, and the many comments that were posted prior to my own, offer a good insight into some of the different vehicle markets in Asia.  I think that is important because many Americans still -despite a few decades of increased attention on the importance of the region – tend to think about Asia as one, single entity rather than the diverse mixture of cultures and countries that it really is.  Although I have travelled to many parts of Asia, most of my experience lies in Japan, where I have lived for more than 9 years, so I will address my comments towards my observations on the car market there.

    I have seen American cars in Japan with surprising regularity, but, by in large, the Japanese depend on trains as their normal mode of transport.  Really rich people usually have company cars and drivers – usually Toyota Crowns or Centuries or Nissan Presidents etc. so most cars tend to be status symbols. The high-end Cadillacs, racy Camaro, Mustangs,  Challengers and giant trucks and SUVs I have seen on the road tend to support this notion.   Some of these cars may be “daily drivers” but I don’t tend to think any of them can be regarded as normal transportation. 

    There are also a lot of enthusiast vehicles around.  Older American cars that can be anything from typical low riders, jacked up 4X4s, Corvettes and other souped up hot rods.  These come in a variety of conditions, some immaculate and some pretty thrashed.  These too are a form of status symbol and often identify their owners as a part of one group or another.  A lowered, ratty looking Cadillac STS, for example, is probably being driven by a spiky haried punk who is a wanna-be gangster, a VW micro-bus is probably driven by a surfer-dude, etc.

    The problem is that the Japanese do not tend to buy a lot of American cars as family vehicles – and this is especially true in the countryside where people do tend to rely upon their cars and where they tend to own several vehicles.  To be sure, I have seen the occasional Grand Am or Chrysler Voyager parked in front of people’s houses, usually in affluent neighborhoods close to a dealership, but by-in-large Japanese families who want plain old transportation buy Japanese products.

    I will say that most of the American car companies in Japan seem to get this fact and their dealerships tend to offer well optioned vehicles at high prices, but I will also say that there has been a push by GM to get the Chevrolet name on the minds of Japanese youth by slapping a bowtie on little Japanese or Korean made cars and selling them at bargain prices.  It would be nice to think we can do to the Japanese what they did to the US in the 1970s, but I doubt that our carmakers will ever be able to compete in the Japanese market as fully and as successfully as the Japanese companies do in ours.

  • avatar
    Kendahl

    For those of you with personal experience in the Orient, what’s it like to drive there? I would suspect that Japan is very regulated with low speed limits. Some of the videos I have seen suggest that the Chinese haven’t figured out how to coexist with other drivers. I don’t know anything about South Korea.

    • 0 avatar

      Hi,
      I’ve lived in Korea since 1998 and have driven here since 2000. People oftern complain about driving in Korea,but personally, I like it. True, at times the traffic congestion is a major pain in the neck, but other than that, it’s all good (and getting better).
      Here are a few interesting stats from the Korean Road Traffic Authority via the Korean National Policy Agency:

      Year        Vehicles            Drivers              kms of road      Accidents           Fatalities
      1970     .13 million        .4 million          40,244              37,243                3,069
      1980      .52 million        1.86 million      46,950              120,182             5,608
      1990      3.4 million        8.5 million        56,715              255,303             12,325
      2000      12.0 million      18.7 million      88,775              290,481             10,236
      2005      15.4 million      23.5 million      102,293            214,171             6,376
      2008      16.8 million      25.3 million      104,236            215,822             5,870

      2008 was the most recent year for which statistics were available.
      I think the good news for drivers in Korea is that while the # of cars and # of drivers continues to increase, the # of accidents and # of fatalities is decreasing.
       
      I’ve driven in China, too and by comparison, there is no comparison. Driving in China is like an amusement park ride; it’s fun and exciting for the first two minutes, but you wouldn’t want to do it every day.

  • avatar
    blowfish

    http://pinktentacle.com/2010/09/photos-50-years-of-japanese-concept-cars/

  • avatar
    jkk6

    With recent introduction of foreign car brands offering premium “imports” at the $30k range which used to be boss level salary in South Korea, consumers want to sample sedans which aren’t your normal taxi or climb the stereotype tree (accent->elantra->sonato->xg350), like said above 98% of cars being domestic. So Ford, with the new FTA may have a chance at penetrating a near exclusive market of middleclass consumers which still have intimate attachment to post war american made goods and muscle car stigma, not to mention the youth offspring living amoung the “wealthy” middle class.

    On a side note a certain dictator P. rode a Limo version Town Car that is extended iirc six inches.
    Mitsubishi showrooms the Eclipse with neon flowers.
    In the city of Seoul, it’s means nothing to bragg about owning a Merc unless it’s AMG.

  • avatar
    tmkreutzer

    Japan is pretty much as you guessed.  There is a lot going on, pedestrians, bicycles, scooters etc and you have to be pretty careful.  When the light changes I always take a breath before I start to accelerate – it pays to be cautions. 

    Most roads are narrow and there are often cars stopped at odd places. You find that cars need to dodge in and out of the other lane so there is a real need to pay attention to the entire road.  For example, a car stopped on the opposite side of the road may mean that oncoming cars will be taking a part of your lane.  That’s disconcerting for Americans because we don’t like oncoming cars in our lanes, but in Japan you just slide over a little and let them come on through. 

    Congestion on main streets is commonplace and Japanese drivers tend to take a lot of alternate routes that lead down narrow little streets.  Knowing your way around is a huge bonus, but as always, there is a lot to watch out for on those narrow streets.  But I figure if Luke Skywalker can fly an X wing down a trench on the Death Star, I can use the force to get through an alley or two.  At least no one shoots lasers at you.

    Once you get out in the country, the roads open up and traffic moves better.  Still, there are a lot of little narrow roads you probably shouldn’t go down no matter what your car navigation says so good judgment is a must.  Also, it’s important to pay attention to the whole road here too as big trucks often intrude into your lane.  Its good crazy fun.

    I’ll give you a link to a video I took driving over the Uji River line near Kyoto -http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-823555920032920867# 


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