By on January 11, 2012

When we talked about Japanese auto sales in 2011, we told you that sales of imported cars were missing, and that they would be available today. They are. Aided by a shortage of domestic cars and a strong yen, Japanese connected with their inner gaijin and bought 22.5 percent more imported cars in 2011 than in the year before.  According to data released by the Japan Automobile Importers Association, 275,644 foreign-built vehicles entered the allegedly closed Japanese market, gaining a market share of 10.3 percent.

“Sales of imported cars topped 10% for the first time since records began in 1966,” a JAIA official told The Nikkei [sub].

Japanese automakers joined the importing fray, led by Nissan. Nissan imported 50,269 cars to Japan in 2011, up 86 percent. Second largest Japanese importer was Toyota.

Sales by foreign automakers grew 13.1 percent to 205,857 vehicles in 2011, grabbing a record 7.7 percent market share.

Japan’s largest importer remains the Volkswagen Group which enlarged its leadership role by 13 percent to 72,028 units. You will not hear a Volkswagen executive complain about a closed Japanese market. I worked for them for more than 30 years, they complained a lot, but never about that. Volkswagen is followed by BMW and Daimler. Fiat-Chrysler shows nice growth, aided by strong Jeep sales.

Ford and GM are treading water. Porsche sold more cars in Japan than Ford or GM.

Newly Registered Imported Vehicles by Brand
(Total Passenger Cars, Trucks and Buses)
December 2011   January – December 2011
2011 Share 2010 Growth 2011 Share 2010

Growth
Volkswagen Grp 5,975 22.75% 4,624 29.22% 72,028 26.13% 63,759 12.97%
VW 4,194 15.97% 3,151 33.10% 50,635 18.37% 46,707 8.41%
Audi 1,753 6.67% 1,445 21.31% 21,166 7.68% 16,854 25.58%
Bentley 14 0.05% 24 -41.67% 126 0.05% 136 -7.35%
Lamborghini 14 0.05% 4 250.00% 99 0.04% 60 65.00%
Bugatti 2 0.00% 2
Nissan 1,729 6.58% 2,843 -39.18% 50,269 18.24% 26,967 86.41%
BMW Group 6,665 25.38% 5,396 23.52% 48,766 17.69% 44,040 10.73%
BMW 5,183 19.73% 4,271 21.35% 34,195 12.41% 32,426 5.46%
BMW MINI 1,468 5.59% 1,102 33.21% 14,350 5.21% 11,338 26.57%
BMW Alpina 8 0.03% 17 -52.94% 141 0.05% 202 -30.20%
Rolls Royce 6 0.02% 6 80 0.03% 74 8.11%
Daimler 4,213 16.04% 3,305 27.47% 34,435 12.49% 32,043 7.46%
Mercedes-Benz 4,081 15.54% 3,110 31.22% 33,212 12.05% 30,936 7.36%
smart 132 0.50% 192 -31.25% 1,214 0.44% 1,101 10.26%
Maybach 3 9 0.00% 6 50.00%
Fiat-Chrysler 1,393 5.30% 1,222 13.99% 13,425 4.87% 11,748 14.27%
Fiat 596 2.27% 599 -0.50% 5,960 2.16% 5,562 7.16%
Jeep 399 1.52% 148 169.59% 3,154 1.14% 1,877 68.03%
Alfa Romeo 140 0.53% 251 -44.22% 1,863 0.68% 1,816 2.59%
Dodge 129 0.49% 95 35.79% 1,106 0.40% 868 27.42%
Chrysler 63 0.24% 50 26.00% 611 0.22% 777 -21.36%
Maserati 16 0.06% 29 -44.83% 249 0.09% 287 -13.24%
Ferrari 39 0.15% 42 -7.14% 386 0.14% 493 -21.70%
Lancia 11 0.04% 8 37.50% 96 0.03% 68 41.18%
Toyota 1,494 5.69% 1,030 45.05% 15,377 5.58% 10,234 50.25%
Volvo 2,105 8.01% 1,138 84.97% 11,997 4.35% 7,894 51.98%
PSA Group 1,075 4.09% 997 7.82% 9,231 3.35% 8,423 9.59%
Peugeot 713 2.71% 647 10.20% 6,137 2.23% 6,021 1.93%
Citroen 362 1.38% 350 3.43% 3,094 1.12% 2,402 28.81%
Suzuki 15 0.06% 381 -96.06% 3,091 1.12% 4,325 -28.53%
Porsche 441 1.68% 381 15.75% 3,658 1.33% 3,335 9.69%
Ford 343 1.31% 338 1.48% 3,469 1.26% 3,047 13.85%
Renault 234 0.89% 161 45.34% 3,068 1.11% 2,537 20.93%
General Motors 318 1.21% 290 9.66% 3,083 1.12% 2,453 25.68%
Chevrolet 142 0.54% 98 44.90% 1,268 0.46% 905 40.11%
Cadillac 138 0.53% 140 -1.43% 1,392 0.50% 1,057 31.69%
Hummer 22 0.08% 36 -38.89% 293 0.11% 376 -22.07%
GMC 15 0.06% 16 -6.25% 117 0.04% 106 10.38%
Buick 1 0.00% 11 0.00% 7 57.14%
DAEWOO 2 0.00% 2
JLR Group 163 0.62% 233 -30.04% 1,962 0.71% 1,908 2.83%
Jaguar 75 0.29% 154 -51.30% 1,020 0.37% 1,138 -10.37%
Land Rover 88 0.34% 79 11.39% 942 0.34% 770 22.34%
Honda 41 0.16% 147 -72.11% 945 0.34% 1,292 -26.86%
Lotus 20 0.08% 32 -37.50% 271 0.10% 312 -13.14%
Mitsubishi 1 0.00% 11 -90.91% 105 0.04% 182 -42.31%
Aston Martin 16 0.06% 14 14.29% 140 0.05% 121 15.70%
Hyundai 4 0.02% 5 -20.00% 81 0.03% 208 -61.06%
Saab 2 0.01% 13 -84.62% 60 0.02% 63 -4.76%
Rover 8 0.03% 6 33.33% 49 0.02% 67 -26.87%
Morgan 2 16 0.01% 15 6.67%
MG 1 0.00% 1 11 0.00% 7 57.14%
Detomaso 1 4 0.00% 2 100.00%
Pontiac 2 0.01% 1 100.00% 12 0.00% 10 20.00%
GMDAT 5 0.00% 5
Unimog 2 0.01% 3 -33.33% 7 0.00% 5 40.00%
Kia 3 0.00% 3
Autobianchi 1 2 0.00% 3 -33.33%
Mini 2 0.01% 1 100.00% 4 0.00% 4
Opel 1 0.00% 4 -75.00%
Saturn 1 0.00% 3 -66.67%
Subaru 1
Others 3 0.01% 1 200.00% 68 0.02% 63 7.94%
Total 26,265 100% 22,578 16.33% 275,644 100.00% 225,083 22.46%
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19 Comments on “The Unthinkable Happens: Car Imports To Allegedly Closed Japan Up 22 Percent, Foreign Share Highest In Recorded History...”


  • avatar
    gslippy

    The leading importers to Japan are all from former Axis nations; how strange. Don’t the Japanese like reliable cars?

  • avatar
    mike978

    Bertel – the Japanese market may not be as closed as urban legend suggests but you cannot just say because 275,644 foreign-built vehicles were imported (for a 10.3% market share) that the market is open. Especially when over 24% of those foreign built cars are from Japanese companies. Just as some people in the USA still class Toyota et al as an “import” brand even though significant numbers are made in the US.

    Doesn`t the brand matter as much as the physical location of the factory? I say this because some of those people buying Nissan’s in Japan may not know they are “imported” but buy it because Nissan is a Japanese company.

    Bottom line the Japanese market still has the smallest penetration of foreign brands of any major developed market (EU, US). This may all be due to Kei cars – is that fair?

    • 0 avatar
      MR2turbo4evr

      Ugh, not this again. Just let it go man. Bertel has been long enough in the industry to know what he’s talking about.

      • 0 avatar
        Acubra

        Don’t be so gullible. The market may be technically open, but try to explain the price difference between domestics and imports.
        Stick to the facts and do your own thinking, and do not rely on blind faith.

    • 0 avatar
      wsn

      “the Japanese market may not be as closed as urban legend suggests but you cannot just say because 275,644 foreign-built vehicles were imported (for a 10.3% market share) that the market is open.”

      Or maybe foreign (i.e. Detroit) cars just suck? VW sold 63k in Japan and roughly 300k in the US. In that perspective, VW’s ease of penetrating both markets are about the same.

      Really, why would a Japanese buy a Cavaliar/Cobalt/Cruze over a Civic?

      • 0 avatar
        Acubra

        Small correction – SMALL cars from Big Three are not good enough to justify the price difference between same class domestics and imports (30-40% easily) in the “open” Japanese market.

      • 0 avatar
        WheelMcCoy

        >>Really, why would a Japanese buy a Cavaliar/Cobalt/Cruze over a Civic?

        Because the Civic was discontinued in Japan? :)

        Ok, I know what you really mean, but the Ford Focus is standout among small cars.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    You will not hear a Volkswagen executive complain about a closed Japanese market.

    They don’t need to. The EU makes the complaints on their behalf:

    http://trade.ec.europa.eu/doclib/docs/2010/february/tradoc_145772.pdf

    http://madb.europa.eu/madb_barriers/barriers_details.htm?barrier_id=095265&version=4

    Japan has non-tariff barriers that raise the cost of importing cars there, which constrains market share. If Japan lowered its NTBs, the Germans would be selling a lot more cars than they are today. But I doubt that it would help the Americans very much; the Japanese are highly brand conscious, and US car companies don’t exactly have cachet value there.

    • 0 avatar

      Ah, those non-tariff barriers. You really honestly believe im ports to Japan wopuld skyurocket iof only Japan would allow the use of “short-range radar (SRR) technology to implement automated or semi-automated for emergency braking systems?” Gee, what else?

      You know who has one of the highest non tariff barrier? The U.S.of A. It has standards that are utterly incompatible with the rest of the world, and which basically require a re-engineering and re-testing of the car. No small series import rules (as they exist in the EU and Japan.) Can’t even import a single car without the paperwork, unless it’s 25 years old. A 25 % chicken tax. CAFE rules which are tailor-made for Detroit.
      And why aren’t these barriers an issue? Because the market is big and juicy enough for importers to spend the money and work. If you want to export to Japan, you need to go by Japanese rules (which are pretty close to EU rules …)
      All those barriers seem only to affect for American cars only. Even zombie Saab managed to get 60 cars through. Remember: Those NTBs get easier the more you import, one time engineering and paperwork …
      Instead of complaining here, I would complain with the unions which feed utter lies to the members and public.

      • 0 avatar
        George B

        Every company I’ve ever worked for has been burned when they try to sell products like wireless base stations into the Japanese market. The major problem is Japan is a small market with unique requirements that are strictly enforced, but it’s just rich enough to make it tempting to bid on a contract. Engineers at the US company then have to do lots of work modifying the product for Japan’s unique requirements, only to loose the bid to some Japanese company. In the worst case, the US company both loses the contract and transfers intellectual property to a Japanese competitor.

      • 0 avatar
        dtremit

        Bertel, if you’re so adamant that there are no non-tariff barriers unique to Japan, answer this:

        Why is Japan the only major automotive market in which comparable import models are not comparably priced?

        To take an example from those Germans who are ostensibly doing so well — the Mazdaspeed 3/MPS and the GTI sell at roughly the same price in the US, in Germany, in Australia. And yet, the GTI sells for 25% more than the Mazda in Japan. Why? This is not an isolated example, by any means.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        You really honestly believe im ports to Japan wopuld skyurocket iof only Japan would allow the use of “short-range radar (SRR) technology to implement automated or semi-automated for emergency braking systems?”

        Don’t take the example out of context. The point is two-fold: (1) outside of TTAC, it is absolutely no secret that Japan has relatively formidable non-tariff barriers and (b) they often take the form of technical regulations (which are not limited to the one example that I provided) that require that products be tailor-made to comply with unique regulations that don’t serve any other purpose but to make things difficult.

        These kinds of rules wouldn’t matter so much if the market potential was high. But combined with all of the other barriers, they act as obstacles. The opportunity to penetrate the local market isn’t great enough to jump through so many hoops.

        Because the market is big and juicy enough for importers to spend the money and work.

        Your chart says otherwise. For example, BMW sells about as many cars in the US in under two months as it sells all year in Japan. That would help to explain one reason why BMW’s are sold at such a high premium in Japan when compared to the US and in comparison to rival cars built in Japan — they have to generate margins from their Japanese sales that can make up for the lack of volume.

        You think that these numbers establish that Japan has some sort of raging import market. But they say just the opposite; the market for imports there is small. And since the NTBs bar them from getting much bigger, there isn’t much volume potential at all, which causes high prices, which necessarily constrains share.

        You know who has one of the highest non tariff barrier? The U.S.of A.

        Everyone has NTBs, but the US emissions and safety standards are not a barrier to large players that are willing to go all-in into the US market. They probably help to keep the likes of Peugeot out of the US, but they are clearly no barrier to any company that aspires to sell in volume. And unlike Japan, the US doesn’t demand that individual cars be inspected for compliance once the feds have blessed the design.

        As for the chicken tax, it’s a non-issue. It is easily avoided. Toyota got around it for years just by shipping the trucks without the beds installed, and then bolting them on after they made it ashore. It’s a silly (and now archaic) tariff, but a meaningful barrier to trade it is not.

    • 0 avatar
      Acubra

      No they do – but among a tiny group of afficionados.
      And it is mainly old Yank tanks, anything with 2 doors and a V8, trucks and custom vans that are popular.
      As for the generic passenger cars – size (ODs and engine capacity) is the killer.
      The cheaper ones are not on par with Crown/Mark II & Cedric/Cima crowd, while costing similar money to buy and run (maintainance and taxes, and the expensive ones – Ze Germans and the Japanese have this segment for themselves already.

    • 0 avatar
      wsn

      “Japan has non-tariff barriers that raise the cost of importing cars there”

      Like injecting $50B cash to bail out Toyota, and forcing a recall of 10,000,000 GM’s for a single accident due to improper installation of floor mats by the dealership (i.e. not employee of manufacture)?

  • avatar
    dodgeowner

    This article is does not tell the entire story of why American or European imports make up such a small percentage of the Japanese and Korean home markets. Just read a few sentence below and then check the other article as see “What the truth about cars” is
    Steve Biegun, a strategist for Ford, during a lecture in 2007 stated this about Ford’s attempts to break into the Korean car market

    * Ford was barred from airing advertising commercials except between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m.
    * Its showrooms’ floor space was restricted by government regulation.
    * Korean tax officials automatically audited anyone who bought a foreign car
    The tax audit tactic was copied from the Japanese. The Japanese also adjusted emission requirements, as needed, to block entry of foreign car makers, changing the requirements, while shipments of cars were in transit, so that they would not meet emissions specific ions upon arrival.
    What cars are allowed in are the more expensive luxury ones, the cars that don’t compete against the cars of the masses. Example Korea: The #1 selling car in Korea for 2011 was the Mercedes E300 CDi at just over 7,000 sold in a market of 1,484,082 cars sold or in other words a ratio of 7:1484 and that is the largest selling imported car, the rest have numbers even smaller than that.
    What about a total of 275,000 imported vehicles into Japan in a market of over 4,210,0000 vehicles? 275,000 vehicles divided up between 52 importers of which a few are Japanese nameplates.
    What about the closed parts industry in Japan, while there maybe a bias against foreign cars, a light bulb is a light bulb, a wiper blade is a wiper blade, show me a foreign parts suppliers not tied to a Japanese car maker that sells in Japan. Publish this list and the % sales in Japan.
    If you doubt these words, to go this web site http://counterpunch.org/2009/07/03/detroit-s-collapse-the-untold-story/

  • avatar

    Bertel, I like how you conveniently forgot to take into account sales of kei cars. Counting kei cars, you would get about 6% market share for imports. Not to mention a good chunk of these imports are from Japanese brands.


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