By on February 26, 2011

In January, car imports to Japan shot up 53 percent, reports Automotive News’ [sub]Asia Editor Hans Greimel from Tokyo. Quick, who do you think takes top honors?

It’s Nissan.  Nissan is riding a wave of March (elsewhere known as Micra) cars. They used to be made in Japan, now they are made in Thailand and brought to Japan. We have been following this trend  for a while.

For years, Volkswagen used to be the top import brand in Japan.  In January, Nissan beat them according to data released by the  Japan Automotive Dealer Association. Nissan imported 3,500 cars in January, the Volkswagen brand imported on 2,758 cars.

Together with Audi, the Volkswagen Group can still claim the title largest importer with a total of 4,154  units. Nevertheless, the Nissan number is remarkable. Of the 35,771  passenger vehicles Nissan sold in January, 10 percent were their own imports from abroad.

Other Japanese manufacturers follow suit on a smaller scale. Toyota imported 956 units from abroad, mostly trucks from Indonesia.

“But,” says Automotive News, “Toyota still sold more imports in Japan than Ford, Cadillac, Jeep, Chevrolet, Chrysler and Dodge combined.” (In case you want the gruesome numbers, here they are: Ford 218,  Cadillac 84, Jeep 73,  Chevrolet 187,  Chrysler 0,  Dodge 46.)

Greimel sees this as part of a bigger trend.  Other manufacturers, such as Mitsubishi, will start  importing to Japan Japanese cars Made in Thailand.  “Non-Japanese imports climbed 13 percent in 2010 and advanced 20 percent in January. But imports of Japanese brands doubled last year and nearly quadrupled last month,” Greimel writes.

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13 Comments on “New Trend In Japan: Japanese Imports...”


  • avatar

    This is gruesome indeed.

    • 0 avatar
      G35X

      Yes, indeed… here is the 2010 result:
       
      Honda     dom  647,289
                imp    1,292
      Lexus           33,365
      Nissan    dom  645,369
                imp   26,967
      Toyota   dom 1,531,722
               imp    10,234
      BMW             43,966 (incl Alpina and Mini)
      Cadillac         1,057
      Chevroret   dom  5,558
                  imp  6,463
      Chrysler           777
      Dodge              868
      Ferrari            493
      Ford             3,047
      Hyundai            208
      Jeep             1,877
      Mercedes Benz   32,037 (incl Smart)
      Porsche          3,335
      VW              46,707
       
      As mentioned elsewhere in this site import duty into Japan is zero percent.

  • avatar
    L'avventura

    First Thailand, next Mexico.  As Mexican-Japanese FTA is in full effect and has recently been further strengthened (automotive tariff-free imports have been moved up to 2013).  Mazda will likely be first, as it shares a significant supply chain with Ford (who has already has a massive presence in Mexico).  Probably followed by Nissan which also has a fairly strong presence there.
     
    Building in Mexico would allow tariff free export into the US/Canada and Japan (the two largest markets for the Japanese).  The problem until now has been that Japanese and North American markets shared very little in common with the types of automobiles they demand so its been smarter to just build in the US.
     
    But we might see the Axela/Mazda 3 and Atenza/Mazda 6 find a home in Mexico for shipments to the US and Japan (and Ford already builds the C1/CD3 platform cars Focus/Fusion in Mexico).  Toyota is also on record as considering another Mexican plant.  However, the Japanese are risk-adverse and the political and security instability is significant hurdle.

    • 0 avatar

      Don’t forget Mexico”s free trade (in cars) agreement with Brazil. That also figures into calculations, though a little bird has told me the Big4 in Brazil are effectively lobbying to end this agreement

    • 0 avatar
      L'avventura

      @ Marcelo
      Yeah, definitely didn’t forget Brazil!  Should also mention that Japan restarted negotiations with Canada this week for an FTA, and there is still the issue of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (that would mean an FTA with the US).  Agriculture is definitely the hot button issue.
       
      It seems that the Japanese are using a two pronged approach to future manufacturing capacity.  FTA agreements are completely out of the control of the manufacturer, as are the unpredictable politics that surround it.
       
      As Bertel’s excellent article on Toyota’s new Ohira factory illustrated, Japanese automakers are likely intending to distribute their manufacturing over multiple regions with smaller capacity to diversify their risks from currency/labor/political fluctuations.  Neither global politics nor the currency market is stable (as it generally has been in a US dollar-centric world of the past).  This will mean that we’ll likely see Japanese factories in Brazil as well as Mexico even with existing FTAs, except each won’t nearly as large compared to what would have been made a decade ago.
       
      The Japanese have been late to Mexico compared to the Big 3 that have moved significant production there.  While large volume American-centric cars like the Camry, Accord, CRV, etc will likely stay in the US/Canada, smaller cars with lower volume that have potential in Japan and Brazil like the Fit, Yaris, etc. may be moved to Mexico.
       
      We are moving to a very nationalistic automotive industry, as the Big 3 bailouts have shown, political intervention in the industry will become a very contentious issue.  Be it Putin demanding car factories in Russia, or Brazilian politics, or Asian or European politics, placating political demands will be variable in manufacturing more than it has been in the past as the diversity of manufacturing options in the emerging nation become available and FTAs are established.  Automakers will need to wrap themselves in the flags of where they are selling their cars.

      This will mean a Japanese-centric global production for the Japanese automakers are nearly impossible (and have been for awhile), lower volume cars for their domestic market will be moved overseas, but at the same time higher volume production will likely still stay in Japan.  The manufacturing capacity that the Japanese makers are using for export will further diminish and move to smaller regional production.  Ultimately it’ll mean more smaller factories in more markets; Brazil, Japan, US, India, Thailand, China, Russia, Vietnam, etc.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      But, Marcelo – isn’t Fiat one the big 4 in Brazil?  They’re building the 500 in Toluca, outside Mexico City. Why would they lobby to end the chance to ship it to Brazil?

    • 0 avatar

      Hi Lorenzo!

      Yes but this car sells in Brazil in very low numbers, Less than 500 a month. I guess the biggest seller from Mexico in Brazil is Ford’s Fusion (about 2 thousand cars a month).

      Now Fiat sold 700 000 cars last year in Brazil and is investing to be able to produce 1.2 million by 2013. SO if they block the Mexico route, they figure they could sell some of their bigger cars here. And the government figures that if they block Mexican imports, Ford, for example, could be “nudged” to produce the Fusion here.

      Now the gov hasn’t made up its mind. But if you read some of my latest articles you’d know they’re keeping an eye.

      As to makers, I know Fiat would like to close the door and I speculate GM wouldn’t mind. Ford and VW have mixed feelings but would probably like to keep said door open for now and Honda would like to keep it open. The Fench would also probably like to see it shut (though Renault, ’cause of nissan, doesn’t protest too loudly).

  • avatar
    Dimwit

    I’d be curious on the model breakdown of our domestics. Ford would probably be mostly Mustangs and F150′s tho thinking of a F150 on the streets of Tokyo is a giggle. Talk about Godzilla!

  • avatar
    Spike_in_Irvine

    This must be the only country where Ferrari outsells Hyundai.

  • avatar
    Norma

    “Nissan is riding a wave of March (elsewhere known as Micra) cars. They used to be made in Japan, now they are made in Thailand and brought to Japan. ”

    IIRC, around 2003/4, Nissan March was one of the top selling (non-Kei) car in Japan. Another victim of Ghosn le cost ripper.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    from the post: ““But,” says Automotive News, “Toyota still sold more imports in Japan than Ford, Cadillac, Jeep, Chevrolet, Chrysler and Dodge combined.” (In case you want the gruesome numbers, here they are: Ford 218,  Cadillac 84, Jeep 73,  Chevrolet 187,  Chrysler 0,  Dodge 46.)”
    I thought we had already established that Japan isn’t much of a market for US automakers? Why not mention that no Hyundais were sold in Japan, also?
     
    After reading all of the posts, a couple of things seem clear to me: The Japanese car buyer is concerned with price and not where a car is assembled, not unlike an American car buyer. In fact, before long, Japanese consumers will be able to buy Mexican made autos just like we can in North America.
     
    And secondly, if the stars align, Mexico will become a world wide auto manufacturing powerhouse, supplying North, Central and South America and apparently some of Asian zones, too. Playing armchair CEO for a moment, if I were asked where I would want a car manufacturing plant, I too would put it in Mexico. I really think that VW’s decision to build a car in the US (again) was a bad move. Same with Kia, too. As noted, the big 3 have plants there, along with Hyundai, Nissan, Toyota, Renault, Fiat… Am I leaving some one out?


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