On Tuesday, I will go to the Fuji racetrack in the hills halfway between Tokyo and Nagoya. I will test drive a Toyota that is not available in Japan, nor is it in the U.S. It is however available and quite a success in India. Can you guess which one it is?
When I pointed at the map, my wife mentioned that her father, bless his heart, has some real estate in Yugawara, and that she has the keys. Yugawara, famous for its hot springs and not much else, sits right smack in the middle of the area which has an 87 percent chance of getting hit by an earthquake with a magnitude of about 8 within the next 30 years.
I was reminded of that this morning. Instead of being woken up with kisses and a cup of coffee, the house kicked me in the butt. Earthquake. We put one hand on our go-bags, eyed the door to the outside and waited for the second wave. It never came, and we had the coffee. It was a magnitude 7 quake, but nobody really mentions them anymore. In the world of new normals, magnitude 7 quakes definitely have carved out their place in Japan.
My wife’s dad’s holdings turned out to be spanking new, but what is parked across the street definitely is not: A Bug! I have no idea what vintage it is. I’d say end of the 60s, beginning of the 70s. It has the big rear window. I could not get closer, because one respects private property in Japan.
The old car must be driven by someone who is even older than the car. See the orange sticker glowing in the window? That’s a golden leaf. There are green leaves for people who have a brand new driver’s license, and there are golden leaves for people over 70. Mandatory over 75, I am told.
In Japan, this is not considered age discrimination, it supposedly announces that there is a feeble driver who should be treated with care and respect for the elderly. The folks who are supposed to display the golden leaves think otherwise. Unless they have a really old car.
“Ore wa toshyori janai. Kuruma ga furinda.” It’s not me that’s old – it’s the car! Which brings us back to the Bug. How did it come here?
In 1972, Japan started to lower the import duties. Importing a car did cost only 6.4 percent (today: zero) and as you can see from the picture, imports to Japan finally got moving. 23,600 cars were imported to Japan in 1972. Of those, 10,920 were Volkswagens, 3,830 Fords, 3,093 were made by GM, 1,611 came from Mercedes, and the remaining 4,146 came from other makes.
As you also can see, Volkswagen marked its domineering role right away, but Americans had their chance and blew it.
Best-selling import nameplates, Japan 2010
Looking at the list of bestselling nameplates in 2010, not much has changed. Volkswagen still rules the roost of imports to Japan. In 2010, more than 70,000 Volkswagen and Audis were imported, holding a joint market share of 28 percent of the small import pie. The first American brand is Ford in place 13. Oddly enough, the bestselling GM brand was Cadillac (#22), followed by Chevrolet in rank 23. If you want more numbers, the Japan Automobile Importers Association has tons of data.
Don’t think the Japanese are not into Americana. They just don’t fancy American cars a lot. Look what I found again! A Denny’s, just a block from the old bug. I guess I’ll have a burger there tomorrow.