By on June 6, 2011

The March 11 earthquake and tsunami didn’t just destroy more than 410,000 cars in Japan. It also totally mangled the list of top selling cars in Japan. After a two year absence, two minivehicles took the top spot of the chart. Suzuki’s WagonR mini vehicle was the best-selling new car in May, Daihatsu’s Move mini vehicle took second. The first regular car was the Honda Fit in the 3rd position. Perennial leader Toyota Prius is in the 6th position, despite an early re-start of production.  Full list after the jump ….

The Nikkei [sub] explains the phenomenon thusly: “Mini vehicles have fewer parts than regular passenger cars. The Great East Japan Earthquake’s impact on the production of mini vehicles, due to supply chain disruptions, was therefore relatively minor.”

That’s one explanation. Another is that both the Wagon R and the Move are inexpensive movers of people and stuff, something that came in handy after the catastrophe. Mini vehicles  or kei cars are a Japanese oddity:  Less than 0.66 liter displacement, 64 hp max. Low tax. Cheap insurance.

A further oddity is that minivehicles and regular cars have their own statistics, even their own dealer associations. The Japan Automobile Dealers Association said that sales of new regular vehicles fell 37.8 percent year-on-year in May. The Japan Mini Vehicles Association reported a decline of 25.4 percent for the same period.

What follows is a mash-up of both statistics.

Japan’s best selling cars, May 2011

Rank Maker Name May Growth YoY Type
1 Suzuki Wagon R 11,186 -22.7% Mini
2 Daihatsu Move 9,402 6.6% Mini
3 Honda Fit 9,354 -21.3% Regular
4 Daihatsu Tanto 9,267 -31.4% Mini
5 Toyota Vitz 7,867 -14.5% Regular
6 Toyota Prius 6,491 -76.1% Regular
7 Nissan Serena 5,766 -5.6% Regular
8 Suzuki Alto 5,204 -39.2% Mini
9 Honda Life 4,887 11.0% Mini
10 Daihatsu Mira 4,777 -37.2% Mini
11 Honda Freed 4,605 2.1% Regular
12 Nissan Moco 4,124 21.4% Mini
13 Toyota Ractis 3,737 11.1% Regular
14 Toyota Corolla 3,307 -58.6% Regular
15 Nissan March 3,271 17.7% Regular
16 Suzuki Parrott 3,266 -42.8% Mini
17 Nissan Roox 3,148 -32.8% Mini
18 Honda Step Wagon 3,107 -46.6% Regular
19 Nissan Notes 2,904 -40.3% Regular
20 Mazda Demio 2,817 -42.6% Regular
21 Suzuki Solio 2,678 No data Regular
22 Nissan Cube 2,611 -32.8% Regular
23 Toyota Passo 2,544 -58.2% Regular
24 Toyota Voxy 2,278 -61.1% Regular
25 Suzuki Mr Wagon 2,222 110.2% Mini
26 Suzuki Swift 2,170 -34.1% Regular
27 Mitsubishi eK-Wagon 2,097 -6.9% Mini
28 Subaru Impreza 2,047 53.1% Regular
29 Toyota Wish 2,032 -49.5% Regular
30 Mazda AZ-Wagon 1,923 -4.7% Mini
31 Toyota Noah 1,839 -60.8% Regular
32 Nissan Juke 1,780 No data Regular
33 Nissan Tiida 1,766 -54.7% Regular
34 Nissan X-TRAIL 1,601 -24.5% Regular
35 Toyota Estima 1,526 -49.3% Regular
36 Suzuki Every Wagon 1,493 15.9% Mini
37 Toyota Crown 1,460 -48.5% Regular
38 Mazda Premacy 1,390 -24.7% Regular
39 Mitsubishi Delica 1,390 No data Regular
40 Subaru Legacy 1,389 -25.8% Regular
41 Daihatsu Esse 1,348 -40.9% Mini
42 Subaru Stella 1,320 -24.7% Mini
43 Toyota Mark X 1,263 -51.0% Regular
44 Toyota Vellfire 1,227 -68.9% Regular
45 Honda Insight 1,152 -63.5% Regular

With the help of Frau Schmitto-san, the statistics of both organizations and the Japanese  names of the cars have been translated into English and combined on a best effort basis. The data are provided “as is” with no express or implied warranty for accuracy. Frau Schmitto-san has done her utmost to ensure that the material and calculations displayed are accurate. However, errors may occur. TTAC, its employees and agents accept no responsibility or liability for any incorrect material. With a little nihongo and Excel, you can create your own.

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6 Comments on “Deep Data Dive: Tsunami Washes Kei Cars To The Top Of Japanese Charts...”


  • avatar
    MrWhopee

    Makes a lot of sense. People who just gone through such horrendous, life-changing event (or just heard about it from friends or family) probably think about how easy it is to lose it all, and just want something cheap and practical for their next automobile, nothing fancy. Plus one of the primary reason for buying a fancy car is prestige, and it probably seem like a poor taste to ‘show off’ during these time of crisis. Even the bigger sized cars that were purchased seem to be the practical type, i.e. wagons, crossovers, or vans.

    • 0 avatar
      SVX pearlie

      The last time you suddenly and unexpectedly had to buy a car, how much did you spend.

      Now, compound it with other losses and potential lost income, and yeah, you’re buying the cheapest car available.

      When there are no used cars (partly due to government policy and partly due to natural disaster destroying most of the supply), there are relatively few options at the bottom.

      Perfectly rational decisions, IMO.

  • avatar
    Dimwit

    Another purely pragmatic reason: manoeuvreabilty. There’s a massive amount of damage and the kei’s may be the only way to get through the damage.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    Why don’t the Japanese send us the cars with the good names like the Noah?

  • avatar

    Another factor is surely that Daihatsu is a major kei manufacturer under its own name and also for others such as Subaru.

    Daihatsu was likely little affected by the quake as its production is concentrated in Kanasai and west of there – far from the earthquake zone.

    http://integrityexports.com/2011/06/08/kei-cars-overtake-regular-cars-in-may-new-car-sales/


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