Best Selling Cars Around The Globe: What The Japanese Are Buying Right Now

Matt Gasnier
by Matt Gasnier

After our much anticipated August World Roundup and a trip through the entire European continent over the past couple of weeks, let me take you to Japan this week, where the best-selling cars rankings are changing relatively rapidly, making for a fascinating market…

Couldn’t care less about Europe and you just want to know which cars sell best in your own backyard? Easy. You can visit 167 additional countries and territories in my blog, one by one, in the comfort of your own lounge. Or this week I can also offer you the Top 265 best-selling models in the USA in September

Back to Cool Japan.

There are 3 different organisations reporting car sales in Japan: the ‘normal’ vehicles are reported by JADA (the Japan Automobile Dealers Association), kei cars are reported by Zenkeijikyo and imported vehicles are reported by JAIA.

Let’s start with ‘normal’ vehicles…

After being in negative for 12 consecutive months from September 2010 to August 2011, then in positive for 12 months in a row also from September 2011 to August 2012, the Japanese ‘normal’ vehicle market is down 8 percent year-on-year in September to 288,478 registrations. The reason is the end of the government subsidy program for eco-friendly vehicles. Year-to-date, the market is however still up a very healthy 38 percent on 2011 to 2,706,327 units.

In September the Toyota Prius gets slammed by the end of incentives, dropping an alarming 33 percent year-on-year to 22,091 sales, only 52 above its little sister the Toyota Aqua, seemingly less affected by the subsidy stop at 22,039 units. This is an even closer gap than the 599 that separated the two models last May, and the Aqua (aka Prius c), already the best-selling body style in Japan for the last 7 months (Prius sales include the MPV version), could shortly become the overall best-seller… Year-to-date the Prius is still in command by far with 260,947 sales vs. 195,632 for the Aqua and is on its way to a 4th consecutive year as Japan’s top seller by year-end.

The big event this month is without a doubt the arrival in third position of the new generation Nissan Note, selling 18,355 units in September alone – that’s more than the previous generation’s sales in the last 5 months combined and an all-time volume record for the Note nameplate, originally launched in Japan in January 2005. The Note is a bit of a fashion victim when it comes to sales, with the previous generation’s first year being the best by very far, and during that first year, the first few months being the best by far as well, so expect its selling rate to slow down once the ‘honeymoon period’ is over in about 6 months time.

#3 is also the Note’s highest ever ranking in Japan and the 2nd time it reaches that level. Now I thought I would hit you with a flow of stats now, so if you are not a true car sales geek you may want to jump over the next couple of paragraphs….

To give the Note 2’s start a bit of perspective, let’s notice the first gen Note ranked #3 as early as in February 2005 for its 2nd month of sales with 12,678 units. This would end up being the Note’s only podium finish up until September 2012, as it went on to peak at 17,946 units in March 2005 but was down to #4 by then. It would rank #5 twice in 2005 ( April and May) and never higher than #6 ( March 2010) during the following 7 years. After 2005, Note sales followed a bizarre pattern of only passing 10,000 units in March of every second year: 12,123 in March 2006, 10,157 in March 2008, 10,792 in March 2010 and 10,653 in March 2012 are the only times the model sold 5 digit-figures!

Looking at year-end figures, the Note finished 2005 in 5th place with 93,925 sales, dropped 26% to #11 and 69,863 units in 2006 to then stabilise somewhat. It was #16 in 2007 with 55,659 sales (-20%), #11 in 2008 at 62,704 (+13%), #10 in 2009 at 65,745 (+5%), #10 in 2010 at 66,347 (+1%) and #13 in 2011 at 46,475 (-30%). Its September 2012 score makes it shoot up from #13 to #8 year-to-date with 55,134 units sold so far in 2012.

Enough about the Note. There are many other events in the Japanese ranking this month, starting with the Subaru Impreza up a huge 10 spots on August to land in 6th position with 7,278 sales, up 194% year-on-year. This is the Impreza’s top position ever in Japan and the highest ranking reached by a Subaru in 13 years – since the Legacy hit #4 in July 1999… The Legacy still holds Subaru’s volume and ranking records at 14,509 units in March 1997 and #3 in July 1996 and July 1998. Note it is unclear whether Impreza sales include the XV model which has just launched in Japan alongside the hatchback.

New models in Japan traditionally post their best sales in the first few months to then stabilise lower. The contrary is true for the Mazda CX-5, proof of future long-term success. Launched in January, the CX-5 broke into the Top 30 for the first time in March at into the Top 20 in April at #19 and has just beaten its ranking record for the 4th time in the last 5 months. It ranks #10 in September with a record 5,530 sales, making Japan the third country in the world after New Zealand (in April) and Australia (in August) where the CX-5 has managed to break into the Top 10.

Popping up into the Top 10 last month, the Toyota Spade is up 18% on August but down to #11 at 5,513 units while the Toyota Porte is stable but down 4 ranks to We welcome an all-new entrant in the Top 20 in September: the Mitsubishi Mirage lands directly at going from 1,392 sales in August to 4,483 and #14 this month. Notice also the Toyota 86 lodging its 6th consecutive month in the Top 30 at #22 and 2,818 units.

Japan Top 10 best-sellers in September 2012:

You can see the entire Top 30 best-selling models in Japan in September 2012 here

PosModelSep/11Aug2012Pos20111Toyota Prius22,091-33%1260,947112Toyota Aqua22,039new2195,6322 –3Nissan Note18,355212%3555,1348134Honda Fit12,511-55%3182,258325Nissan Serena8,865-14%481,057646Subaru Impreza7,278194%1637,64914287Honda Freed6,230-4%792,397468Toyota Vitz5,990-45%690,188539Toyota Corolla5,972-32%563,6077510Mazda CX-55,530new1228,26625 –

Now let’s explore the best-selling kei cars

The latest Kei car sales figures are for August 2012 when the market is up 22 percent year-on-year to 138,405 units, bringing the year-to-date 8 months total to 1,413,410 registrations, up 46 percent on 2011. In August the Honda NBOX is the most popular kei car for the 5th consecutive month with 17,308 sales, but remains #2 year-to-date at 142,986 units below the Daihatsu Mira, #3 this month, with 160,290 sales – up 237% year-on-year.

The Suzuki Wagon R, #1 in the Full Year from 2003 up until 2011, is now back in 2nd place for the first time since last March at 14,645 units but stays #3 year-to-date with 132,072 sales. 3 Daihatsus follow: the Mira, Tanto and Move. The Suzuki Alto (a Japan-specific version, not the one sold in India or Europe) ranks 6th ahead of the Nissan Moco and Suzuki Palette.

Toyota’s first foray into the Kei car world, the Pixis Space reaches its best ranking so far this month at #9 thanks to 3,196 sales. The Suzuki MR Wagon is up one spot on July and 54 percent year-on-year to #10 at 2,969 units while the Nissan Otti is up 3 ranks and 32 percent to

Kei car Top 10 best-sellers Japan August 2012:

You can see the entire Top 20 best-selling Kei Cars in August 2012 here

PosModelAugust/11Jul2012/11Pos20111Honda NBOX17,308new1142,986new2312Suzuki WagonR14,64513%3132,07226%313Daihatsu Mira13,596132%2160,290237%144Daihatsu Tanto12,62910%4122,67439%435Daihatsu Move9,433-20%5109,6047%526Suzuki Alto8,79934%683,81156%657Nissan Moco4,620-1%750,16330%778Suzuki Palette4,5824%847,32438%889Toyota Pixis Space3,196new1023,732new122810Suzuki MR Wagon2,96954%1129,97849%1111

Finally let’s have a look at sales of imported vehicles in Japan…

26,510 new imported passenger cars were sold in September, up 2 percent year-on-year and bringing the year-to-date total to 177,221 units, up a very healthy 19 percent on 2011. As it has been the case for the last 10 years, the VW Golf is the best-selling import in Japan over Q3 2012 with 5,657 sales, albeit down 9 percent year-on-year. At 18,669 units over 9 months, the Golf is also down 9 percent on 2011 and out of the overall ‘normal’ vehicles Top 30 but still way ahead in the imported ranking.

The Mini stays at a brilliant 2nd place at 3,882 units (-4 percent) and ranks #3 year-to-date. Excellent score of the Toyota Town/Lite Ace (produced overseas and reimported into Japan), up from #6 in Q2 to #3 with 3,608 sales, ahead of the Mercedes C-Class up 8 percent year-on-year to 3,557 units and #4.

Thanks to the new generation of the model, the BMW 3 Series is back within the Top 5 for the first time in nearly 2 years (since Q4 2010) with 3,091 sales, up a massive 30 percent year-on-year. The VW Polo is down 36 percent to while the BMW 1 Series is up 224 percent to #7 and the Mercedes B-Class up 143 percent to #8.

Matt Gasnier
Matt Gasnier

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Join the conversation
  • Crabspirits Crabspirits on Oct 09, 2012

    I imagine the Nissan Moco would be a hot seller in Mexico!

  • Corey Lewis Corey Lewis on Oct 19, 2012

    Why can we not have cool looking Kei-cars here?! Legislation? Safety? Or the fear by the manufacturers that everyone would buy an NBOX instead of a Civic.

  • Arthur Dailey 'The capitalists will sell use the very rope that we use to hang them.' In our household we have cut down our shopping/spending and pay more to purchase products from 1st world nations or 2nd world nations that are our 'allies'. That also means quite often only buying and eating fruit and vegetables that are in season. Just like our parents and grandparents did.At least TTAC published an article on May 21st regarding LAN transformers that contravene the Uyghur Forced Labour Prevention Act being used in some BMW, Jaguar, Land Rover, and VW products?
  • ToolGuy I wouldn't buy any old Chinese brand of vehicle, but the right EV at the right price, maybe possibly yes. If you told me this would alarm Ford and torque off FreedMike, all the better. 😉P.S. I would *definitely* consider an EV made in Taiwan. Take that, paramount leader!P.P.S. China batteries/components to convert one of my ICE vehicles to EV? Yes.
  • Wolfwagen I expect Renault to be less popular than Fiat
  • ToolGuy Helium-3, baby!
  • Roman Our 1999 Pontiac Sunfire Gt is still running without any issues. 25 years and counting.