By on August 1, 2011

Between Consumer Reports’ decision to drop the Honda Civic from its “recommended” list, the poor financial numbers, increased competition from Detroit, Wolfsburg and Korea and the chaos of the tsunami (not to mention the Toyota recall scandal), there are plenty of signs that the land of the rising sun is losing its grip on the US car market. But is the slide inexorable, or can Japan rally to regain its dominance? Here, via Automotive News [sub], is a graphic that projects the product cadence of Japan’s “big three” over model-years 2012-2015… does it give you hope for Japan, or do you see signs of continued struggles?

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33 Comments on “What’s Wrong With This Picture: Can Japan Regain The Upper Hand? Edition...”


  • avatar
    mjz

    No new Corolla until MODEL YEAR 2015? Is Toyota kidding? It’ll be eligible for Social Security by then.

    • 0 avatar
      mike978

      Exactly. This gives the Elantra, Focus, Cruze and Jetta plenty of time to solidify their position. Coupled with the lukewarm reception to the “new” Civic which gets no further improvements in this timeline.
      I do see a new/redesigned Honda Accord for 2013 – that might help against the new Fusion, new Malibu and still onfire Optima/Sonata.

    • 0 avatar
      84Cressida

      Corolla is getting redesigned for 2013. This graph is wrong. It also says the FT86 is coming out in 2015, but it’s not, it’s coming next Spring..and I last I checked, next spring will be 2012.

    • 0 avatar
      L'avventura

      Automotive New’s graph is all over the place and mostly erroneous. The Corolla has already gotten the 7-speed Super CVT-i transmission in the Corolla in India to replace the prehistoric 4-speed auto. The 2013MY will be considered the next-gen Corolla. Toyota seems to also be positioning the upcoming Prius C compact at Corolla consumers.

      Let’s keep in mind however that modern cars have evolutionary upgrades. This is to insure consistent reliability, which is why changes are rolled out gradually. From the consumer perspective, superficial cosmetic differences, such as new sheet metal is what differentiates a new versus old model. Toyota and Honda, with their conservative, offend-nobody-design, are not making the impact they need to convince consumers of a generational leap. I’m pretty sure the next Corolla will also suffer from this criticism.

      But this Automotive New graph is really as useless as this conversation. Basically it says that by 2015 every major model will be replaced with a new one. We already knew this. The real question is the product themselves.

  • avatar
    aristurtle

    Wait, Nissan is seriously putting more money into the Titan?

    Aside from that, Nissan is looking okay. (Well, the Nissan part, anyway, maybe not so much the Infiniti part.) Honda… I grew up in a series of Hondas and I’d love to see them turn things around but my inner cynic is saying it’s unlikely.

    Toyota will keep being Toyota. I kinda think they should kill off Scion already but that’s just a gut feeling, the numbers probably show that the brand makes sense or they’d have stopped it by now. In fact, it probably makes sense to have Toyota be the conservatively styled slow moving brand and leave Scion there to soak up all the weird ideas. It just feels too Saturn-ish to keep working though.

    On the brands not listed: Mitsubishi is a dead brand walking, we all know that. Subaru is looking pretty good. Mazda is weird; I think they’re on the way up but it could go either way. Who am I forgetting?

    • 0 avatar
      Steven02

      Nissan wanted Chrysler to build their new Titan, but that fell apart. The Titan can be had for a great price, but Nissan doesn’t sell very many of them at all right now. I am actually surprised they have a redesign plan and not a kill plan.

    • 0 avatar
      Advo

      A lot of times persistence pays the second or third time around.

      Nissan could get the product right with another go. Maybe improving the reliability will gain market share. Most people buy Japanese because of their perceived reliability. Nissan could gain sales by being a less-expensive alternative to Toyotas.

      The full-sized pickup market will still sell enough to be huge money maker for anyone who can get into it like Nissan hopes to.

      • 0 avatar
        aristurtle

        I just think they’d have much better luck if they focused more on the Frontier over the Titan, now that Ford and Dodge are leaving that market and the Chevy Colorado is weak.

  • avatar
    ajla

    So Toyota is going with the Firebird-Camaro strategy by selling both a Toyota FT-86 and a Scion FR-S?

  • avatar
    RGS920

    2014 Acura RSX?? Acura returning to it’s small-sporty car roots?

  • avatar
    mjz

    Nissan looks the best positioned with a slew of new/redesigned products coming (esp. MY 2013). Unfortunately, if any of them look like the new Versa Sedan, all bets are off.

  • avatar
    mjz

    I think the RSX will be Acura’s version of the European Civic, like the old Integra (wish they’d go back to names, Integra, Legend, etc.).

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      That won’t play well. The European Civic lost its IRS and got a beam axle when it was split from the model sold in Japan and North America in 2006. The euro Type-R is heavy and lacks the helical LSD of the US Civic Si in addition to having suspension like some sort of new VW.

  • avatar
    Jellodyne

    This list is all about sheetmetal, but drivetrains are at least as important.

    I think Japan has suffered by losing their technological advantage. Honda used to have modern DOHC with a 4 speed auto, where a comparable American car might have something like an Iron Duke with a 3 speed auto. Heck, the Dodge Neon was saddled with a 3 speed auto as recently as 2000. Nowadays, the domestic is more likely to have a more modern direct injected engine with a 5 or 6 speed auto.

  • avatar
    Secret Hi5

    Photos of the all-new 2012 Toyota Camry are now available on the web. What does the crowd here think of the new design?

    • 0 avatar
      SpinnyD

      I think it looks much better than the one being produced now, they really bumped up the interior as opposed to VW who decontented their models as much as possible.

  • avatar
    pip_squeak

    What about Subaru, Mitsubishi, Suzuki and Mazda?

    The current Corolla is a joke. Cheap plastic interior, boring styling, outdated 4 spd. auto transmission, etc. Toyota cannot afford to wait until MY 2015 for a redesign. It’s one of their best sellers. Why are they not taking the competition (Cruze/Focus/Elantra) seriously?

    • 0 avatar
      aristurtle

      That’s who I was forgetting earlier!

      Suzuki is in serious trouble. Not only are their cars selling incredibly poorly but the motorcycle market is so bad that they didn’t have a MY2010. They just skipped it, because dealer inventory was so heavy. Model years 2011 and 2012 were/are mostly “bold new graphics”, i.e. no actual updates to anything.

      Basically Suzuki never found a way to have the coolness of their motorcycles rub off onto their cars the way Honda really got going, and now it might be too late.

      Hopefully they’re doing okay in other markets.

  • avatar
    200k-min

    I have no doubt that the Camry, Corolla, Accord and Civic will all be big sales leaders through 2015. Personally I don’t think the 2012 Camry looks too exciting and am hopefully optimistic that the ’13 Accord will excite me, but those 4 vehicles sell no matter what and are the brightest stars in all of Japan.

    Nissan looks well positioned with big volume Sentra and Altima redesigns coming in 2013. That has some promise.

    Lexus gets a new EX in 2013 which is good, but the RX lingers until 2015 which isn’t good. Does anything else they sell do enough volume to care?

    I don’t see any Infiniti “redesign” of the G, wich is the only model I’ve ever seen in numbers.

    Acura gets a new TL in 2013 which hopefully is better than the last. It’ll probably just compete with the Lexus ES and not win sales from other non-Japanese competition.

    Overall I don’t see Japan dominating sales in North America. Not because they got terrible and old products, it’s just competition is fierce. This is no longer a market dominated by complacent manufacturers with a consumer begging for something different.

  • avatar
    frozenman

    With a claimed 30% increase in fuel economy for the 2012 Subaru Impreza, watch for it to be a sales hit. They won’t be able to build them fast enough, at least initially. When the new Forester comes out based on the same platform and hopefully with some significant improvement in fuel economy , sales could be very strong as well. Fuel economy is one of the biggest problems holding the Impreza line back IMHO. And even though it will not be a volume seller, the new two door coupe they are coming out with will be the fastback hardtop mx5 that Mazda should have built a long time ago!

  • avatar
    mjz

    The “new” Camry looks really dull. Let’s hope the craplastic interior has had a significant upgrade.

  • avatar
    PenguinBoy

    I doubt the Japanese automakers will be returning to their Clinton Era greatness any time soon.

    As mentioned previously, they have some pretty stiff economic headwinds: high Yen, cost of rebuilding after the Tsunami, Japan heading into its third “lost decade”, etc.

    Perhaps even more important, is the fact that they don’t seem to consider the resurgent Detroit automakers as serious competition. Bertel’s posts tell us that the Japanese don’t seem to take Detroit seriously at the corporate level, I see evidence of the same attitude at the dealership level as well. In order to solve a problem, you first have to acknowledge it exists. Ignoring a growing competitor in their most important market it not a recipe for success.

    The Japanese marques have a large and loyal fan base, but I think in many cases it is a rational “left brain” sort of loyalty that keeps people coming back to the Japanese, rather than blind emotional loyalty. If Detroit and the Koreans can establish a decent track record over the next five years, I expect that many currently loyal Japanese buyers will start to shop elsewhere.

    • 0 avatar
      geeber

      During the Clinton era, the Northstar V-8 Caddies, GM’s revamped W-bodies, the Chrysler cab-forward models, the Dodge/Plymouth Neon, Ford’s Contour/Mystique and the original Focus were going to win back ground lost to those infernal imports. They all looked really good at first, complete with favorable reviews in the buff books, but we now know how those efforts turned out…

      Honda and Toyota have stumbled, and the new products from Detroit LOOK good right now, but I’ll wait before declaring any winners or losers.

  • avatar
    Hildy Johnson

    The yen is a factor, but these days all major companies are global and can shift production around in order to control currency risks.

    In the Japanese companies, I don’t see the kind of energetic leadership these days that is currently running Ford, VW, Hyundai and Chrysler.

  • avatar
    Sam P

    About time the Lexus IS is getting redesigned.

    Hopefully it has better visibility, a lower beltline (more like the BMW 3-series or Infiniti G than the current car), and is more fun to drive; along the lines of the upcoming GS redesign.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    Isn’t part of the problem that many recent “new and improved” redesigns have been “new and less desirable”?

    Hyundai and Ford have generally been doing a good job of introducing redesigns which are actually improved. Honda has doing terribly on that score in recent years, with the Fit perhaps the only redesign which is actually better than the prior generation.

    Toyota has been on a de-contenting binge with the Camry for the past three design generations, and each one is objectively less desirable than the one which went before it.

    Nissan doesn’t seem to be as bad off in this regard.

    Acura and Mazda have incorporated new faces which are simply hideous, and the current TSX is a much less desirable driver’s car than was its cult classic predecessor.

  • avatar
    Advo

    The ever-rising yen has got to have a lot to do with their de-contenting decisions. Even if they make more profit from each overseas built car, it gets eaten-up when the currency gets converted back.

    What I don’t understand is why a Japanese company doesn’t take a chance and offer vehicles with a diesel option. VW sold them even with their brand’s higher markup and lower reliability. Someone mentioned recently that the A3 diesel is now a MSRP profit spinner.

    Here in Canada, autos.ca did a new M-Class review and noted 80% of M-Class sales are diesel. There’s got to be an opportunity for something reliable and yet less expensive than a hybrid.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack99

      I’d say it’s just part of it. The other problem with a company like Toyota is it has wayyyy too many factories in America. Capacity is underused, costs remain largely similar with the exception of a few fired workers. They’re competing against the likes of Hyundai and Subaru who’ve been slower and cautious about raising capacity. Hyundai especially has always been careful about upping capax and maintaining quality. It’s because of this their costs are so much lower. They’re more efficient at using whatever capacity and labor power they have to its fullest without the waste associated with near-inactive factories.

  • avatar
    Sinistermisterman

    Is it me, or is the only Japanese manufacturer that still “has it’s sh*t together” is Nissan? I’m willing to bet good money that the new Versa will be a big hit when it’s released, and with a choccablock new/revised product lineup over the next few years they look to be the busiest of the bunch.

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