The Japanese Abandon Their Cars
Japan’s Internal Affairs Ministry has bad news for Japan’s automakers: Japanese citizens are dumping their cars and take the train. Domestic car ownership has declined for the first time since 1964, with declines particularly pronounced in big cities, report The Nikkei [sub]: “Less-status-conscious city residents are abandoning cars for public transit.”
The ministry surveys the number of cars owned per household every five years. The latest study counted 1,414 cars per 1,000 households, declining 2.2 percent from the previous 2004 poll. This marked the first fall since 1964, when the first study was conducted.
2.2 percent less is not mass abandonment. But it’s a turn. The Nikkei has a darker view: “The latest trend bodes ill for the domestic auto market and hints at a shifting sociocultural landscape, where once-common practices, such as buying a larger vehicle after starting a family or upgrading to a higher-end model after a job promotion, are no longer considered important.”
Here are the more interesting numbers: Car ownership tumbled 6.4 percent among the under-30 population and slid 6.6 percent among individuals in their 40s. Younger generations nervous about their economic futures are shying away from auto purchases, while the middle-aged are parting with their vehicles amid a deteriorating income environment.
And they are indeed switching the cars for the train: The drop in vehicles owned per household was the sharpest in Kanagawa Prefecture at 7.7 percent, followed by Chiba Prefecture’s 7.5 percent, Saitama Prefecture’s 7.2 percent and then Tokyo’s 6.9 percent. These prefectures are all part of the greater Tokyo area, bedroom cities connected by a vast and efficient public transportation system with the city core. Tokyo has one of the, if not the, most comprehensive subway systems in the world. You don’t need a car there. Most of the times, it’s a burden. We have an apartment in Tokyo, no car. My wife owns a building lot. She makes a lot of money by renting it out as parking space.
For the few times you want a car, ther are alternatives. Domestic car-sharing sites more than doubled from a year earlier to 861 locations. Membership surged 150 percent.
Carmakers are getting desperate to attract the few young buyers that some are even holding events at elementary schools in Tokyo to drum up interest in cars among blase children. Toyota sends mechanics to schools to explain and show how cars work.
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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