Germans Outsell Lexus At Home In Japan

Bertel Schmitt
by Bertel Schmitt
germans outsell lexus at home in japan

The good folks who are still convinced that the Japanese car market is closed, can count themselves lucky. Would they have been with me today, they might have doubted their beliefs and strayed from the faith. Today, Lexus finally rolled out its new GS line in Japan. America had already seen it last Summer, and two TTAC testers actually drove the cars.

Today, two straight-laced Lexus executives told reporters in Tokyo that imported cars are so successful that Lexus would like to have some of that success and that they strive to take some of the imports’ growing market share. Kazuo Ohara, Deputy Chief Officer of Toyota`s luxury arm Lexus said:

“In Japan, there is a strong customer segment that is always interested in buying imported cars, and this is the segment we would like to capture.”

The trouble is, those customers are interested in buying German luxury cars.

Kiyotaka Ise, chief officer of Lexus, identified Germany’s Mercedes, BMW and Audi as the darlings of Japanese customers Lexus would love to lure into its showrooms. Easy call, one look at this table says it all:

Japan`s top selling luxury cars, 2011


Indeed, together the Teutonic Top-of-the-line brands sell more than twice as many cars in Japan than Lexus does in its home market.

This won’t change anytime soon. Ohara conceded that it will be a while until Lexus will pry the German iron out of Japanese hands. In Japan, Ohara thinks that this year’s Lexus sales will be only “somewhat higher than the level of last year.”

The growth is supposed to come from elsewhere. “Last year, we sold 404,000 units, and this year, we would like to achieve 510,000,” Ohara said. That is an ambitious 21 percent growth, the same percentage number Toyota has set itself as a target.

But back to the imported cars Japanese like. It’s not that America does not have Kei cars. Hell freezes over before America produces small cheap boxes with pint-sized motors. (Hold your horses, I know that 0.66 liters are a pint and a gulp .) America does not have the big bore luxury cars a rich Japanese clientele craves.

Cadillacs imported to Japan in 2011? 1,392 .

Meanwhile, car imports to Japan rose 22.5 percent this year to 275,644, while the domestic market (ex Kei cars) was down 16.7 percent.

Join the conversation
6 of 36 comments
  • Spike_in_Brisbane Spike_in_Brisbane on Jan 26, 2012

    I was waiting for someone to mention that all cars in Japan are RHD. How many American cars are exportable with steering wheels on the right? Not many. The Australian market was mentioned but the most popular Ford and GM cars here are made here. (Holden, Falcon, Cruze, Ranger). BMW and MB have a long history of building cars that work both ways. US built RHD cars are mostly limited to Chryslers and Jeeps. We cannot get Corvettes or Camaros (based on the Holden) without paying about $30,000 extra for conversion. By the way, this explains the prevalence of Jaguars and Rovers in Japan mentioned earlier.

    • See 1 previous
    • Svenmeier Svenmeier on Jan 27, 2012

      Actually wealthy Japanese will PAY EXTRA to import a LHD European luxury car into Japan, even a British luxury car. It's all about status and driving a LHD European premium car displays the message twice: I am rich (for driving a European luxury car) and I am filthy rich once again (for driving a LHD European luxury car). I was once told that some of these unique Japanese owners of European luxury cars will even go as far as to tan their left hand using tanning lotion or solar studios. This is to signify that they drive a LHD car. Also, many European luxury cars sold in Japan are not converted to RHD. Dealers know that the Japanese will pay a premium for them. It's a weird curiosity.

  • Carbiz Carbiz on Jan 27, 2012

    Interesting how the LHD/RHD barrier is mentioned in the context that it almost implies that Detroit somehow should be blamed for this, too. Think about the situation after WWII. With the Japanese economy in tatters (and you Americans getting to foot the bill to rebuild it - gee, I don't see that factoring into Nissan or Toyopet's 'bail out') would Ford or GM have bothered retooling factories and building RHD for an economy that had the perceived potential to sell a few hundred thousand vehicles per year? Sure, with the hindsight of 70 years, we can see now that perhaps GM or Ford should have tried a bit harder in the 1950s to sell over there, but the Japanese market was tiny. Combine that with the difficulties in adapting vehicles for RHD (at the time), who would bother? So, rather than seeing this as an oversight on the part of Detroit, perhaps this is one of those subtle barriers that Japan Inc chose to maintain to keep out the foreigners. After all, why didn't China adopt right hand drive?

    • See 1 previous
    • Spike_in_Brisbane Spike_in_Brisbane on Jan 27, 2012

      The tiny market for RHD vehicles consists of the following countries: Anguilla,Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, Bahamas, Bangladesh, Barbados, Bermuda, Bhutan, Bophuthatswana, Botswana, British Virgin Islands Brunei Cayman Islands Channel Islands Ciskei Cyprus Dominica Falkland Islands Fiji Grenada Guyana Hong Kong India Indonesia Ireland Jamaica Japan Kenya Lesotho Macau Malawi Malaysia Malta Mauritius Montserrat Mozambique Namibia Nepal New Zealand Pakistan Papua New Guinea St. Vincent and Grenadines Seychelles Sikkim Singapore Solomon Islands Somalia South Africa Sri Lanka St Kitts and Nevis St. Helena St. Lucia Surinam Swaziland Tanzania Thailand Tonga Trinidad and Tobago Uganda United Kingdom US Virgin slands Venda Zambia Zimbabwe I think you'll find some sizeable markets there. (Japan, India, Indonesia for a start)

  • El scotto Subway or non-subway city? There is a difference.
  • MaintenanceCosts Most of our drivers actually aren't that bad, except that they're a little slow-witted. But there is a group that, post-pandemic, has decided they've had it with the rules, and they're scary.Recently I've seen a regular drumbeat of people blowing through red lights and stop signs without a care in the world; several drivers drive the wrong way (despite honking and yelling) down one-way streets; one driver driving on the wrong side of the street past a line of cars waiting for a red light, forcing an innocent oncoming driver to take evasive action; and one pickup driver deliberately ramming all the planters (used to separate a bike lane) he could see.And no one can park. There's always someone parked blocking the crosswalk, blocking the fire hydrant, blocking the bike lane, blocking the bus stop, you name it.But mostly it's OK.
  • ChristianWimmer Sunak has apparently done this because his political party has lost so much support. Once the brainless masses flock to his political party again the trap will spring shut and bam - the ICE ban will be attempted to get pushed through even quicker.Honestly, Europe right now is a complete CR** HOLE thanks to the EU.Did anyone hear of the EU’s plans to make driving even more unattractive? A French Green Party politician introduced some really perverted ideas under the guise of “Vision Zero” (Zero deaths from driving in the EU) and of course the climate hysteria…1) If you just received your driver’s license you can not drive faster than 90 km/h - basically you’re stuck behind trucks on highways or can’t even overtake them on normal roads.2) If you are 60 years old, your license is only valid for 7 more years. If you are 70 years old, 5 years. If you’re 80 years old, 2 years. You are required to “renew” your license (and pay for it yourself) which will also determine if you are still fit to drive.3) The standard B driver’s license here allows you to drive vehicles up to 3.5 tons in weight. Under this idiotic proposal from that French nutjob, those 3.5 tons will decrease to 1.8 tons meaning that you can’t legally even drive a Tesla Model 3…
  • ToolGuy I blame Canada.
  • Syke This is one of those days when you come up with an article that I just live to comment on. I'm retired from (but still working at three half days a week - retirement was boring) Richmond Honda House, a Honda/Yamaha/Can-Am/Sea Doo dealership. No, I'm not a mechanic. I'm the guy who handles all the recall/warranty claims. Which between the three major brands, and a couple of small Asian brands is enough to keep me busy for about fourteen business hours split across Tuesday thru Thursday. Yes, the Spyders are reliable, but when they do break down they can be a nightmare due to you have to have a laptop plugged into one to do most kinds of service. First hint: You absolutely do not want to do massive aftermarket sound system upgrades to a Spyder. We've had nightmares with them in the past. I swear half our original customers back in the 2008-2010 period bought theirs to turn into a three-wheeled boom box, which would invariably cause voltage fluctuations in the electrical system, thus driving the various black boxes wonky and causing all sorts of problems.Those of you who decry computerization in modern automobiles will find that the Spyder is even more so. I've noticed that the Spyder has gotten a lot better since Bombardier dropped the original V-twin engine (same one that Aprilia used on their 1000's when they first came into the country) in favor of the current triple. Mechanical repairs to the drivetrain have definitely gone down.Used? The more recent models seem to have good reliability. No, not as good as the current Gold Wing, or any generation Gold Wing for that matter, but definitely within acceptable parameters. The older ones, especially the original 2008-2010 models, I'd recommend staying away from. How bad? During the 2008 recession, when motorcycle dealers were desperately hanging on, my office at Honda House was the single best cash flow for the company, totally because of warranty claims and recalls from the original models. Yes, Bombardier has gotten an awful lot better.Oh yeah, the company itself it decent to deal with on a business and support level. From my office, they're my favorite of the three, slightly ahead of Yamaha, and a night and day improvement over Honda. All you have to remember is that you're not dealing with Canadians, you're dealing with Quebecois. Yes, there's a difference, I was married to one for thirteen years.