Japanese November Car Sales: Up 44 Percent? Or 36 Percent? Or 18 Percent?

Bertel Schmitt
by Bertel Schmitt

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.

Bertel Schmitt
Bertel Schmitt

Bertel Schmitt comes back to journalism after taking a 35 year break in advertising and marketing. He ran and owned advertising agencies in Duesseldorf, Germany, and New York City. Volkswagen A.G. was Bertel's most important corporate account. Schmitt's advertising and marketing career touched many corners of the industry with a special focus on automotive products and services. Since 2004, he lives in Japan and China with his wife <a href="http://www.tomokoandbertel.com"> Tomoko </a>. Bertel Schmitt is a founding board member of the <a href="http://www.offshoresuperseries.com"> Offshore Super Series </a>, an American offshore powerboat racing organization. He is co-owner of the racing team Typhoon.

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  • Bertel Schmitt Bertel Schmitt on Dec 02, 2009

    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.

  • John Horner John Horner on Dec 02, 2009

    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.

  • Honda1 Unions were needed back in the early days, not needed know. There are plenty of rules and regulations and government agencies that keep companies in line. It's just a money grad and nothing more. Fain is a punk!
  • 1995 SC If the necessary number of employees vote to unionize then yes, they should be unionized. That's how it works.
  • Sobhuza Trooper That Dave Thomas fella sounds like the kind of twit who is oh-so-quick to tell us how easy and fun the bus is for any and all of your personal transportation needs. The time to get to and from the bus stop is never a concern. The time waiting for the bus is never a concern. The time waiting for a connection (if there is one) is never a concern. The weather is never a concern. Whatever you might be carrying or intend to purchase is never a concern. Nope, Boo Cars! Yeah Buses! Buses rule!Needless to say, these twits don't actual take the damn bus.
  • MaintenanceCosts Nobody here seems to acknowledge that there are multiple use cases for cars.Some people spend all their time driving all over the country and need every mile and minute of time savings. ICE cars are better for them right now.Some people only drive locally and fly when they travel. For them, there's probably a range number that works, and they don't really need more. For the uses for which we use our EV, that would be around 150 miles. The other thing about a low range requirement is it can make 120V charging viable. If you don't drive more than an average of about 40 miles/day, you can probably get enough electrons through a wall outlet. We spent over two years charging our Bolt only through 120V, while our house was getting rebuilt, and never had an issue.Those are extremes. There are all sorts of use cases in between, which probably represent the majority of drivers. For some users, what's needed is more range. But I think for most users, what's needed is better charging. Retrofit apartment garages like Tim's with 240V outlets at every spot. Install more L3 chargers in supermarket parking lots and alongside gas stations. Make chargers that work like Tesla Superchargers as ubiquitous as gas stations, and EV charging will not be an issue for most users.
  • MaintenanceCosts I don't have an opinion on whether any one plant unionizing is the right answer, but the employees sure need to have the right to organize. Unions or the credible threat of unionization are the only thing, history has proven, that can keep employers honest. Without it, we've seen over and over, the employers have complete power over the workers and feel free to exploit the workers however they see fit. (And don't tell me "oh, the workers can just leave" - in an oligopolistic industry, working conditions quickly converge, and there's not another employer right around the corner.)