By on June 20, 2014

This is the next step in our Trans-Siberian adventure. After reporting on the impressive number of Hummers in Mongolia’s capital city Ulaanbaatar, today we have a look at one of the most peculiar characteristics of the car landscape of Ulaanbaatar (and the country): used right-hand drive Japanese imports. Hope you enjoy, and stay tuned for the last Mongolian update in this long-term Photo Report, detailing the official best-selling cars in Mongolia in 2013…

If you can’t wait for the next report, you can follow my trip in real time here, or check out 174 other car markets on my blog.

1 Toyota Prius IFirst generation Toyota Prius

If the very high ratio of used right-hand drive Japanese imports in the streets of Ulaanbaatar was a logical continuation of what I had progressively observed as I traveled further East in Russia, the big difference is the extremely high occurrence of hybrid models, namely the first two generations Toyota Prius. It turns out that imported used hybrid cars are exempt from import taxes, but the very harsh weather Ulaanbaatar experiences during winter still makes it a puzzling choice.

2 Toyota Verossa PriusToyota Verossa and second generation Prius

Somehow hybrid cars and temperatures going down as low as -40 to -45°C seems to be an odd combination. But speaking with a few drivers in the capital city, they all told me one of the main advantages of owning a hybrid car and particularly a Toyota Prius is that they always start without a fault each morning in winter, no matter how crazy the temperature is. That is definitely not the case for non-hybrid cars, in particular the hordes of used and battered Hyundais I spotted all across the country.

3 Toyota Corolla Prius IToyota Corolla and Prius

My first impressions of the Ulaanbaatar car park were confirmed day after day over the two-week period I stayed in the region. Priuses Priuses everywhere… As you will see in the Mongolia best-sellers article, Toyota is the default brand when it comes to buying a new car here, and this is even more true in the used car world.

13 Nissan ElgrandNissan Elgrand

Apart from the thousands of Prius you can spot in the capital, the next three most popular used Toyotas to have travelled directly from Japan are quite familiar: they were also quite successful in Russia: the Toyota Ist, Verossa and Probox.

5 Toyota Crown HybridToyota Crown Hybrid

Three models I didn’t see often in Russia but at every street corner in Ulaanbaatar are the Toyota Crown Hybrid (all generations), the Toyota Mark II Grande with its distinctive tail-lights split by the nameplate…

6 Toyota Mark XToyota Mark X and Prius

…and the Toyota Mark X. The only non-Toyota that should feature among the best-selling used Japanese imports is the Nissan Tiida. I also spotted a few Nissan Elgrand, Honda Life and Element but it’s mainly a Toyota world out here.

7 Toyota Will CyphaToyota Will Cypha

7b Toyota Will ViToyota Will Vi

7c Toyota Will VS HummerToyota Will Vs and Hummer

A range I got to discover with eyes wide open in Russia was Toyota’s Will cars, and in Mongolia they have become quite common, to my amazement. So common that I have managed to take ok pictures of each member of the range above: the Will Cypha, Will Vi and Will Vs next to the ubiquitous Hummer.

8 Toyota Voltz Pontiac VibePontiac Vibe? Nope, Toyota Voltz

Other oddities I spotted in Ulaanbaatar include the Toyota Voltz, a badge-engineered Pontiac Vibe complete with the nameplate “V” logo which in fact could stand for Voltz as well as Vibe – handy!

9 Mitsuoka RyogaMitsuoka Ryoga

This is the first (and only so far) time I saw a member of the Mitsuoka brand…

10 Honda ElementHonda Element

11 Autech Nissan March BoleroAutech Nissan March Bolero and Toyota Prius

11 Toyota Mark II GrandeToyota Mark II Grande

12 Toyota ProboxToyota Probox

4 Toyota IstToyota Ist

14 Toyota AllionToyota Allion

15 Toyota Mark X ZioToyota Mark X Zio

16 Toyota Mark XToyota Mark X

17 Toyota Noah

Toyota Noah

18 Toyota RaumToyota Raum

19 Toyota Mark II GrandeThe distinctive tail-lights of the Toyota Mark II Grande

20 Toyota Prius I backToyota Prius

21 Toyota Prius I Ford ScorpioToyota Prius and Ford Scorpio

22 Toyota Prius IToyota Prius

23 Toyota Prius IToyota Prius

24 Toyota Prius IToyota Prius

Matt Gasnier is based in Sydney, Australia, and runs a blog called Best Selling Cars Blog, dedicated to counting cars around the world.

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21 Comments on “Best Selling Cars Around The Globe: Trans Siberian Series Part 15: The Japanese imports of Ulaanbaatar...”


  • avatar
    Kenmore

    Toyota Noah!

    Float to me on the global warming flood! I’ll learn to deal with wrong-side-drive.

    But wait! Isn’t that a steering wheel in front of the guy with the white cap? Perfect!

  • avatar
    brandloyalty

    Hybrids start well in cold conditions because they don’t have a starter and don’t use the 12V battery for starting. They use one of the electric motors to spin up the ICE, powered by the large hybrid battery. So it’s vastly more capable than the regular setup.

    In the enthusiasm to promote the myth that hybrids don’t perform well in cold weather, matters such as their superior starting have remained unknown. Even those who sell them don’t mention this, and car journalists/reviewers certainly don’t.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      Its more complicated than that.

      Our Prius gets aslittlke as 35MPG when making 2 mile trips below 0F (-18C). That’s “poor performance” for a car that’s capable of 50MPG and has a giasnt MPG meter on the dashboard.

      The same factors that cause the poor fuel efficiency in the Prius affect every other vehicle in varying degrees, but most don’t make it as obvious as the Prius does. Plus, American Prius drivers really care about that MPG number.

      But, between the TCS, the full-power-when-you-turn-it-on-in-the-cold electric power steering, the automatic climate control, and the fact that the thing just works, it’s a great car to actually drive in the winter. I found myself choosing it over the F-150 4×4 I used to own, because the Prius requires fast less effort to control on a slippery road. This is an odd sweet spot for a car that I usually concede is more fun to own than it is to actually drive, but the Prius is an odd little car that keeps on giving!

      • 0 avatar
        brandloyalty

        This mileage problem puzzled me because all hybrids have to do that non-hybrids don’t, in cold weather, is burn a little more gas to keep the hybrid battery warm. But I think I have the answer.

        Hybrids sometimes burn gas just to keep the catalytic converter warm. My Escape Hybrid, at least, does this very aggressively. It burns a lot of gas to warm up the converter quickly. In driving that comprises very short trips in very cold weather, the Prius may be burning lots of gas just to rewarm the catalytic converter. The only upside is that non-hybrids would not get their converters up to operating temperature in these conditions, and so would be polluting a lot more.

  • avatar
    319583076

    This is a great series! I love geeking out on all the makes and models when I’m overseas. Ulaan Bataar sure seems to have a unique automotive vibe.

    What’s that van in the background of the Mitsuoka Ryoga pic? It looks like another Nissan van, similar to the Elgrand.

    I’ve never seen nor heard of the Elgrand, but I think they have a pretty cool style. It appears to be about the size of the Ford Flex, which I have always considered pretty cool lookin’.

    • 0 avatar
      2kriss2kross

      The van in the background is a Toyota Hiace. I too am digging the Elgrand. I think the Japanese make the best minivans, the Toyota Alphard/Vellfire and Nissan Elgrand being my favorite contemporary ones. Did you know the current generation Elgrand is sold in the North America as the Nissan Quest but with a different front and rear fascia?

      • 0 avatar
        319583076

        That’s pretty interesting. I rented a Quest last Fall to drive a group to a college football game. I thought the styling was awful, but I actually enjoyed driving it. If they offered Elgrand styling and I had the need, I would seriously consider buying one. I actually think the Hiace is better looking, but it seems maybe it’s a bigger vehicle?

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al from Oz

      The Hiace van in the background are built on a midsize platform.

      Here they run a 3 litre diesel and are workhorses. They are best suited for city work and not long distance use.

      • 0 avatar
        319583076

        City use because of fuel economy, or is it a chore to drive a big box over long distances on interstates/freeways/highways? I could see the Hiace being a bear on windy days and being a pretty loud and boomy place to spend several hours droning down the highway. I think the minivans styled for the NA market are pretty terrible looking. Whether that drives people into CUVs and is better business for the manufacturers or whatever reason, if someone bothered to distinguish the minivan, it might be a hit. After all, the 1/2-ton trucks have all morphed into huge blocks on jacked up frames. The B&B consensus seems to be that most PU truck buyers would be better served by minivan utility. Give us a butch, box minivan and see what happens!

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    The Toyota ist was sold in the US as the Scion xA. When Toyota USA thought the only subcompacts Americans would buy needed to have a trunk (Toyota Echo), the only way to get a subcompact Toyota hatch was to buy an ist/xA.

    Scion expected the ist/xA to be the volume model. Thing is, the Toyota bB (aka Scion xB) was the same car, mechanically speaking, with a funky look and tons of interior room.

    If you’re looking for a good used subcompact, xA’s can be found pretty cheaply, because nobody remembers they exist.

  • avatar

    I was always puzzled why traffic in SF Bay Area reminds me Ulaanbaatar so much. Now I finally understand. But steering wheels here are on the left side though.

  • avatar
    wheeler

    Matt, thanks for another great report about the more exotic car markets.
    I’m surprised not to hear about a fair number of imports from China. But when I think about it, I realize that very little effort has been made by China’s automakers, to penetrate the market of this northern neighbor, Outer Mongolia.

    As for the Prius’s I have to wonder if everyone just drives ice cold for the first twenty minutes or so, or are block heaters, or auxiliary electric heaters, popular so drivers have a warm car to start out their mornings with.

    • 0 avatar
      brandloyalty

      My Escape Hybrid warms up the passenger compartment just as fast as a non-hybrid. (Why wouldn’t it?) In addition, the current generation of the Prius (2009?) has a system to scavenge heat from the exhaust system, so heating the hybrid battery and the passenger compartment is extremely fast. Not to get personal with you, but in general it’s too bad people know so little about hybrids.

      • 0 avatar
        wheeler

        BrandLoyalty, thanks for your response to my post. But I also own a hybrid, and speak from experience.
        In the morning, if my traction battery is fully charged when I press the “POWER” button, the ICE will not start, ergo no circulation in the engine’s cooling system. And so, after starting out,the ICE will not run until I impose a load on the system. For that short period, I freeze. No, I haven’t invested in a block heater yet, as it’s not as cold where I live as it is in Ulan Bator.

        • 0 avatar
          brandloyalty

          That’s interesting. The Escape Hybrid always starts the ICE when fired up, even if there seems to be no reason for it. Sometimes it runs for only a few seconds. So you can’t impress people with a silent start and glide away.

          A friend of mine has a ’10 Prius, I’ll ask him if it behaves like your hybrid.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    I like the Probox, it’s so serious looking. It’s like the guy at your office who when someone says, “Wait! Who knows how to take care of ____?!” he makes a serious face and goes, “Yeah, I’ll just do it.”


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