As a worldly American and car nut, on one of your world travels, there will be a time when you fall in love with a car in a foreign land. The crush on that thing will be so big that you will want to take the irresistible beauty home with you. Just ask Sajeev or Frau Murilee.
While Japan may be a “closed market” in the eyes of some, imported cars from America are all the rage in South Korea. Honda is planning on sending no fewer than six American-made cars; the Civic, Accord, Odyssey, CR-V, Crosstour and Pilot will all be sent to South Korea as Honda attempts to become a net exporter of American made vehicles.
It’s definitely going to be used in this case. Anyway, I’m looking to pick up a fun weekend car in another 3-4 years. I like to plan ahead. Here’s what I want:
* 4 doors
* manual transmission
* normally aspirated inline 6
* (the kicker) curb weight under 3,000 pounds
* preferably built after the Reagan administration (most everyone had their emissions stuff sorted out by then)
From what I can tell, this narrows the list down to 4 cars (in order of preference):
With a 35% import tax on new cars, Argentina is already a touch market for foreign brands seeking to bring cars into the country. But the Argentinean government has just made it little bit harder by demanding that importers export an equal amount of Argentina-made goods for every car imported. As a result, Bloomberg reports that Porsche’s importer is exporting Malbec wines and olives, Mitsubishi’s importer is getting into the peanut export game, and Subaru’s representative is shipping chicken feed to Chile. BMW, which has had recent difficulties importing into Argentina, is focusing on its core business, exporting auto parts and upholstery… and a little processed rice to make up the difference. But why are these major manufacturers getting into all kinds of strange side businesses just because Argentina wants to improve its trade balance and foreign currency reserves? Simple: Argentina is South America’s second-largest economy, and it’s been growing at over 5% per year since 2007 (i.e. when other markets were shrinking). So if the government wants imports balanced with exports, well, Porsche’s importer is just going to have to get into the wine business, isn’t he?
Detroit’s brand managers, particularly those at the resurgent premium and luxury brands, have made West Coast sales a high priority as they seek to bring new buyers into once-moribund brands like Buick and Cadillac. California, in particular, is a huge market for luxury and premium cars, and it’s generally an edgier, more youthful market that has long shunned domestic offerings. Everything from “lifestyle events” to no-cost hybrid drivetrain options on Lincoln MKZ have been introduced in an effort to get California’s copious yuppie population interested in Detroit luxury, but the results just haven’t shown up yet. According to Ford’s Mark “MKF” Fields [via AN [sub]], only about 25% of MKZ buyers were tempted by the free-hybrid deal in March, and meanwhile, the San Francisco Chronicle reports that the Golden Gate City has just lost its final domestic auto dealership, a Ford/Lincoln store. Detroit may be California dreaming, but the Buicks and Lincolns of the world are still a long way from gaining ground in the West Coast.
Saab has started paying suppliers again (although production hasn’t restarted yet), and CEO Victor Muller is once again all popped-collar confidence as he dismisses the “speed bump” that he blames on negative publicity. But behind Mueller’s yacht-club breeziness and talk of “true Saabs,” major changes are afoot in Saab’s business model. Saab’s deal with Hawtai, the product of a desperate search for support in the midst of a liquidity crisis, has changed how Muller sees the global car business, and as a result he’s shopping what may be Saab’s last meaningful asset: Western dealerships. Muller explains his thinking to Automotive News [sub]
We laughed when the Japanese came. We laughed when the Koreans came. But we will not be laughing when the Chinese come. The Chinese are like a steamroller. It took 67 years to build up our dealer network. It is the biggest asset not on our asset sheet, and these guys buy into it for free. If they make the proper cars, can you image how much simpler it will be to push product through the distribution network that is already there? It is like a railway network that is already there.
Bertel and I have a running bet about whether the first actual Chinese import to the US (not a converted glider) will be a Chinese brand or one of the western brands… but it’s not much of a bet because neither of us can ever commit to picking one brand that seems most likely to bust America’s Chinese car cherry, and our “bets” change on a weekly basis. In any case, though, think it’s safe to say that neither of us saw Saab as playing much of a role in any of the scenarios we’ve discussed.
Japans currency rose to a 14-year high against the dollar last week, prompting fears that the island nation’s exports could be dramatically affected. And no firm stands to lose as much Toyota, which had been operating under the highest assumed exchange rate of any of Japan’s auto exporters. Reuters reports that ToMoCo had pegged the rate at 90 yen to the dollar, some five yen higher than rivals Honda and Nissan. With the Yen trading at 86.29 to the dollar, that assumption could add up to big losses: Toyota reckons that for every one yen drop against the dollar, operating profits will decline some 30b Yen due to the fact that it exports over half of its Japanese-made automobiles, most of which head to market in the US. Aizawa Securities analyst Toshiro Yashinaga explains that Toyota, more than any other Japanese firm, is riding the razor’s edge.
Carmakers that issued big profit warnings last year have set cautious forex assumptions this time, so roughly speaking the current rates are within expectations. But there are views that the dollar could sink even further in 2010, to the 70s (yen), and in that sense Honda and Nissan, which are relatively strong in emerging markets, are in the winning camp
Japan’s government has thus far resisted calls to intervene in the Yen’s exchange rate. As if Toyota’s heavy exposure to the moribund US market weren’t bad enough, exchange rate uncertainty could make Toyota’s second-straight loss even worse than expected when the firm announces its fiscal year-end results in March.