By on March 28, 2012

Renault has realized a new trend: Imports are hot in Japan. Nissan established a new company, Renault Japon Co., Ltd., to import and sell Renault vehicles in Japan, effective April 2, 2012. Previously, Renaults were sold in Japan by a division of Nissan.

While American automakers sit sulking in a corner and complain about mythical import restrictions to Japan, European makers are looking back at a great year exporting their cars to the island nation. While the Japanese market as a whole dropped 14 percent, imports to Japan rose 22.5 percent.

With 3,068 units sold in 2011, Renaults are not necessarily brisk sellers in Nippon. Renault’s alliance partner Nissan on the other hand is the second largest import brand with 53,337 units imported in 2011.

King of the hill is and remains Volkswagen. The Volkswagen Group imported 72,028 units to Japan in 2011. You will not hear them complain about a closed market.

Because of the weak euro and strong yen, the car exported from Europe to Japan guarantee big profits, especially because the Japanese customer sees nothing of that currency windfall. Cars going from Japan to the soft-euro-zone can incur losses.

As the list, compiled using data of the Japan Automobiles Importers Association, shows,  American companies do miserably in Japan. Tiny Porsche sells more cars in Japan than all of General Motors.

Registrations Of New Car Imports Japan 2011

2011 Share% 2010 Change
Volkswagen Group 72,028 26.1% 63,759 13.0%
VW 50,635 18.4% 46,707 8.4%
Audi 21,166 7.7% 16,854 25.6%
Bentley 126 0.0% 136 -7.4%
Lamborghini 99 0.0% 60 65.0%
Bugatti 2 0.0% 2 0.0%
Renault Nissan  Alliance 53,337 19.3% 29,504 80.8%
Nissan 50,269 18.2% 26,967 86.4%
Renault 3,068 1.1% 2,537 20.9%
BMW Group 48,770 17.7% 44,044 10.7%
BMW 34,195 12.4% 32,426 5.5%
BMW MINI 14,350 5.2% 11,338 26.6%
BMW Alpina 141 0.1% 202 -30.2%
Rolls Royce 80 0.0% 74 8.1%
Mini 4 0.0% 4 0.0%
Daimler Benz Group 34,442 12.5% 32,048 7.5%
Mercedes-Benz 33,212 12.0% 30,936 7.4%
smart 1,214 0.4% 1,101 10.3%
Maybach 9 0.0% 6 50.0%
Unimog 7 0.0% 5 40.0%
Toyota 15,377 5.6% 10,234 50.3%
Fiat Chrysler Group 13,427 4.9% 11,751 14.3%
Jeep 3,154 1.1% 1,877 68.0%
Dodge 1,106 0.4% 868 27.4%
Chrysler 611 0.2% 777 -21.4%
Fiat 5,960 2.2% 5,562 7.2%
Alfa Romeo 1,863 0.7% 1,816 2.6%
Ferrari 386 0.1% 493 -21.7%
Maserati 249 0.1% 287 -13.2%
Lancia 96 0.0% 68 41.2%
Autobianchi 2 0.0% 3 -33.3%
Volvo 11,997 4.4% 7,894 52.0%
PSA Group 9,231 3.3% 8,423 9.6%
Peugeot 6,137 2.2% 6,021 1.9%
Citroen 3,094 1.1% 2,402 28.8%
Porsche 3,658 1.3% 3,335 9.7%
Ford 3,469 1.3% 3,047 13.8%
General Motors Group 3,102 1.1% 2,475 25.3%
Cadillac 1,392 0.5% 1,057 31.7%
Chevrolet 1,268 0.5% 905 40.1%
Hummer 293 0.1% 376 -22.1%
GMC 117 0.0% 106 10.4%
Pontiac 12 0.0% 10 20.0%
Buick 11 0.0% 7 57.1%
GMDAT 5 0.0% 5 0.0%
DAEWOO 2 0.0% 2 0.0%
Opel 1 0.0% 4 -75.0%
Saturn 1 0.0% 3 -66.7%
Suzuki 3,091 1.1% 4,325 -28.5%
JLR Group 2,011 0.7% 1,975 1.8%
Jaguar 1,020 0.4% 1,138 -10.4%
Land Rover 942 0.3% 770 22.3%
Rover 49 0.0% 67 -26.9%
Honda 945 0.3% 1,292 -26.9%
Lotus 271 0.1% 312 -13.1%
Aston Martin 140 0.1% 121 15.7%
Mitsubishi 105 0.0% 182 -42.3%
Hyundai Kia Group 84 0.0% 211 -60.2%
Hyundai 81 0.0% 208 -61.1%
Kia 3 0.0% 3 0.0%
Saab 60 0.0% 63 -4.8%
Morgan 16 0.0% 15 6.7%
MG 11 0.0% 7 57.1%
Detomaso 4 0.0% 2 100.0%
Subaru 0.0% 1 -100.0%
Others 68 0.0% 63 7.9%
Total 275,644 100.00 225,083 22.5%

There have been many theories that tried to explain why the Americans are losing the import wars in Japan year after year. Favorite theory in Detroit is that the Japanese market is closed. When asked where and how, there are no answers. Some people cite the fact that the Japanese drive on the left – which doesn’t stop the Germans from selling a lot of cars in Japan. Culturally attuned people say the Japanese like saiku things, small precision machines. This does not help the Mini much, which sold 4 in Japan, whereas 80 monstrous Rolls were sold. Those allegedly narrow streets in Japan seem to be wide enough for 33,000 Mercedes. Inscrutable orient.


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18 Comments on “Renault Opens Import Company In Allegedly Closed Market Japan...”

  • avatar

    Hope the banner photo is not representative of what they intend to import, else if they are planning on measurable sales, they better remember to get the steering wheel on the proper side of the car!

    • 0 avatar

      I’m not sure if it’s still true or not but I thought that Japanese car buyers actually preferred to have a wrong-hand-drive imported car as it appears more unusual or special to neighbours and work colleagues by underlining the fact that you have a car made in a foreign country.

      For locally produced stuff, it’s right-hand-drive as usual though.

  • avatar

    Excluding the uber German brands, and admittedly VW far ahead but Peugeot is second and Fiat third with around 6000 sales. Interesting. Bertel. though the small precision Mini sells so little, I’d imagine most of these Fiats are 500 with maybe a few Pandas. So, the Japanese prefer the 500?

  • avatar

    there is a mutual affinity between the Japanese and the French

  • avatar

    Ah, Herr Bertel is beating the old tired Japan-is-free-market drum.
    There is some data missing from all this: number of domestics of the same class(es) sold in the same period of time, and -more importantly – the MSRPs for both imports and domestics.
    Strangely, these are two topics Herr Schmitt never bothered to discuss.

    Personally I do not care about closeness of JDM, or US manufacturers complaining about it. My point is that the matter is rather more complicated, and there are many factors at play than what has been told here by the same author.

  • avatar

    The non-tariff barriers to entry in the Japanese auto market aren’t exactly a mystery. Between the tax structure and various bureaucratic maneuvers, the Japanese (and the Koreans, to a lesser extent) have made it difficult for foreign car companies to compete in the domestic market. The net effect of these regulations is to raise the MSRP of foreign cars well above those of domestic rivals.

    These regulations are less effective against makers of high-end cars like BMW and Mercedes, since they already command high price premiums anyway and sell to a limited, rich clientele. But VW is the only full-line foreign automaker to find any real success in Japan, and even then, they probably aren’t making much money off that market. When you consider that VW has had history in Japan since shortly after WWII (before Tokyo started playing games with the “free” market relationship between it and the rest of the car-producing world), their relative success is easier to understand. You also didn’t pay attention to your own data: BMW Mini sold over 14,000 units in Japan in 2011, according to the chart you posted.

  • avatar
    George B

    So Bertel, what American car would sell well in Japan if only our domestic manufacturers would try? Is it better to try to sell a distinctly American model like a Ford Mustang or Jeep Wrangler or a more generic model like a Chevrolet Cruze?

    • 0 avatar

      Cruze is just another cheap Korean car, and the Japanese just do not buy Korean cars, period.
      Wrangler would do much better with a good modern diesel. Yet it is a recognized name and sells steadily, although in very small numbers, compared to domestics. Blame those prices and engine-capacity based car tax.
      The latter applies to almost anything pure US domestics. Fiesta and Opel (GM-Euro) are in better position, but again – pricing and dealers that are thin on the ground.

      • 0 avatar

        I thought maybe the Volt could actually do well, as I think it has good potential in Europe with their 240v electric structure, high gas prices, inner city ICE car limitations, tax structures, and willingness to pay higher prices for their smaller cars. The Japanese are similar in many of these traits, yet their electrical infrastructure, if I recall, is actually a lower wattage than even here in the US (is it 80 or 100 watt??). That would make for longer charging times.

      • 0 avatar

        They have Prius of different sorts and the Leaf. Why would they even bother?
        EU is different as Opel Ampera (Volt for them) is sort of local brand, well recognized and well represented in terms of dealer network.

    • 0 avatar

      If Harley Davidson made a car they’d sell every one they exported to Japan. Price would be no object.

  • avatar

    Indeed American cars did not sell in Japan because they’re not the kind of cars that sell in Japan, period. If Japanese companies tried to sell their JDM products like Kei cars and such in the US they would be similarly unsuccessful. They’re successful in the US because they took the US market seriously, producing cars especially tailored for the US market. Most cars made in America (not just American branded) is not even available in right hand drive! Detroit bitches about closed Japanese market, yet they don’t even try to really sell cars there.

    • 0 avatar

      I suspect this to be the real reason as well, seeing as they very clearly aren’t trying very hard (or at least doing anything that costs significant amounts of money or time) to expand in Japan. Complaining as a means to advocate for “free market access” (favorable treatment) is free, and hey, it just might work some day.

  • avatar

    What’s the difference between BMW MINI 14,350 and Mini 4 ?

    Is the classic Issigonis Mini still being made?

    • 0 avatar
      A is A

      “Is the classic Issigonis Mini still being made?”

      Absolutely not.

      But the Japanese use to import rebuilt old cars. It is “chic” for them.

      In the late 1980s some Japanese entrepeneurs came to Spain and bought for a song dozens of old cars. Spain was then full of 1960s jalopies still running).

      The cars were rebuilt and sold in Japan with a handsome profit.

      Ironic than old jalopies in a poor country ended as “chic” fashion statements in a rich country.

  • avatar

    MrWhopee has it right. American cars don’t generally suit the market or the tastes of the Japanese. I don’t presume to be any sort of expert but I did live in Tokyo (Kunitachi, Bertel) for 7 or so years and I’ve visit for a few weeks every other year or so. I have quite a few Japanese friends here in the states.

    My guesses are as follows:
    German cars are perceived as high quality and high status. BMW and Mercedes, just as here are viewed as symbols of success. Also just as here, VW lives on the reflected glory of their German brothers, along with their nice interiors. Mini falls on the reputation of its British-car ancestors, along with the fact that a Mini doesn’t look like $30K well spent inTokyo -it’s a small status symbol that looks like an office-lady’s little kei-class.

    Most American cars don’t confer much status on the owner frankly. Cadillac is still associated with Japanese gangsters although I believe that the Yakusa have actually moved on. However nobody is goning to show up at the office with a Caddy – just too flashy. A Ford is a just a Ford and a Chevy is just a Chevy. I mean, what is there about them that will make people say “Oh wow!” enough to justify the cost of filling that American size gas tank every week?You can buy so many better cars there for less and other higher -status cars for not much more. Additionally it must be said that attacks on Japanese cars in the US during the 80’s and the 90’s left a mark. The protests were on the news a lot, and the lingering perception (just as here) is that American cars are junk. There are a few exceptions to that -Jeeps are loved the world round. However I can say that of all the Japanese I know here in Dallas, almost no one drives American. Quite a few foreign makes besides Japanese though. I don’t think that recent events here are goning to help US car sales either. Perhaps you’ve forgotten the Obama Administration’s attack on Toyota. The Japanese haven’t. There it was widely viewed as purely political to aid Government Motors sales.

    Don’t think that the Japanese don’t like America though. Everyone continually tells me how grateful they are for the aid given after the disaster.

  • avatar
    doctor olds

    No the 4.4Million Japanese market is not closed, only 94% is domestic.
    All imports combined capture 6%, with the leaders selling volumes of about 50,000 units max.
    It is not closed, but imports are trivially insignificant, and unlikely to be profitable for any makers.

  • avatar

    Let me get this straight: VW, which is in the top 3 in sales in EVERY MARKET ON THE PLANET (except the U.S and Canada, strangely), sold a paltry 72k units in Japan last year and they should celebrate? That’s 1.8% market share! In wee Canada, they sold 52k last year, for a 3.2 market share – and that’s competing against every dog and pony show going. I mean, Canada imports everything, including it’s people!
    All these figures prove is that the rich (or the pretend rich) will buy foreign products to flash their wealth. The hard working folks realize their money spent is political and will only buy from Japan Inc. Whatever other inducements are out there, who can say?
    We may never understand the Japanese consumer, who has borne 40 years of subsidizing Japan Inc via 0% loans, devalued yen, and other type of bureaucratic hurdles that have kept Japan and Korea at DEAD LAST in the OECD rankings of foreign penetration in their auto markets, But they are finally getting their just desserts: Toyota and the gang are rewarding the hapless Japanese consumer by moving all THEIR jobs offshore now.
    Karma is a bitch.

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