By on December 2, 2009

Let’s get small!  Picture courtesy

If you are a daily reader of the Nikkei, as we are in the Schmitto-san household, you can sometimes lose your confidence in Japanese precision and accuracy.

Yesterday, we quoted the Nikkei as saying that “sales of new cars and trucks rose 36 percent year on year to 293,410 units in November, marking the fourth straight month of increase, the Japan Automobile Dealers Association said Tuesday. Passenger car sales surged 43.8 percent to 268,450 units.”

Today, we read in the Nikkei that “new-vehicle sales increased 18.3 percent to 436,535 units in November for a third straight year-on-year gain, according to industry data released Tuesday.”





After a lot of head scratching and frantic (“mooshi-mooshi, Schmitto des”) phonecalls to Tokyo, we found out that we were fooled by the fine nuances between “vehicle” and “registered vehicle.” And by a fading Nipponese fad called the “kei” car, or the minivehicle.

Minivehicles are classified as everything propelled (if you can call it that) by an engine with the displacement slightly larger than a beer bottle: 660 cubic centimeters  (40.27 ci.) The “car” may not measure more than 133.8 inches in length and 58.3 inches in width. Neither the Smart ForTwo nor the Mini Cooper would qualify as a minivehicle under Japanese law. Those kawaii little critters and the bigger bore conveyances (called “registered vehicles”) taken together make up the total “vehicle” count. Makes your head spin, doesn’t it?

Anyway, here are the final numbers:

Japan in November saw 293,410 “registered vehicles,” up 36 percent. Trucks were down 10.7 percent. “Real” passenger cars were up 43 percent. The pesky little minivehicles are down 6.5 percent to 143,125 sold in November. This is the 13th month that the “kei” cars are losing. Which restores our confidence in the Nipponese market. But which also makes the Japanese numbers look bad unless one recognizes the fine nuances between “minivehicle”, “registered vehicle”, and “vehicle.” The Japanese are big on nuances. Down to the smallest vehicles.

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5 Comments on “Japanese November Car Sales: Up 44 Percent? Or 36 Percent? Or 18 Percent?...”

  • avatar

    I’d have to guess this is good news for manufacturers.  Wouldn’t it be the case that revenue is up sharply and, likely, gross margins?

  • avatar

    displacement slightly larger than a beer bottle: 660 cubic centimeters  ?

    Since  I have an interest in both beer and small engines and once owned a K-car perhaps I may be qualified to chip in here.

    Now which beer bottles would these be Bertel ? Here in North America the  12 oz bottle is just

    341ccs or 341ml depending which side of the border you live. For those who like their brew in a pint

    bottle if they could get one, a full pint (20 oz) runs about 568cc and is probably what you had in mind.

    All this typing has made me thirsty I think since it’s lunch time I’ll crack me open one


  • avatar

    If I recall correctly, the vehicle inspection process for a passenger that is over 5 years old is quite onerous.  So much so, that in the past Filipinos and Russians were delighted to buy them usually on the Grey Market.

  • avatar

    T2:  As a Bavarian, I only compare with 0.5 Liter bottles.  Which is half of the standard unit I grew up with: the 1 Liter stein.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    Kei car sales may be down, but the number is still impressively large. 143k Kei cars vs. 269k for all other passenger car types combined implies an impressive 35% market share of passenger cars for the Kei cars. But then, are Kei sized micro-trucks included in the Kei car numbers? Ouch, my head hurts.

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