Japan In October 2012: Kei Cars Cushion Blow

Bertel Schmitt
by Bertel Schmitt

Japanese subsidies for eco-cars expired in September, and analysts predicted a hard landing due to pulled-forward sales. In a way, this happened, but the fall was not as hard as expected. In September, sales on all automobiles in Japan were down 3.4 percent. This month, they are down 5.7 percent. The fall would have been harder, would it not have been cushioned by the resilience of a Japanese oddity, the Kei car.

Regular vehicle sales Japan October 2012ManufacturerOct ’12Oct ’11YoYYTD ’12YTD ’11YoYDaihatsu233441-47.2%2,5362,578-1.6%Hino2,8762,7942.9%34,91727,72425.9%Honda20,00636,355-45.0%385,469314,81022.4%Isuzu3,6212,93723.3%49,84433,61748.3%Lexus3,1284,308-27.4%37,52836,3283.3%Mazda9,15411,457-20.1%145,832124,35717.3%Mitsubishi5,3764,06332.3%51,65746,95510.0%Mitsubishi Fuso2,5552,931-12.8%29,12421,28936.8%Nissan34,75333,6313.3%440,766372,34118.4%Subaru8,1705,78541.2%84,89162,11836.7%Suzuki4,9456,025-17.9%77,98264,92720.1%Toyota114,405122,208-6.4%1,389,389935,80048.5%UD Trucks707855-17.3%7,5936,63814.4%Other15,61414,13710.4%194,343165,39617.5%Total225,543247,927-9.0%2,931,8712,214,87832.4%Data courtesy Japan Automobile Dealers Association

Sales of regular vehicles were down 9 percent in Japan, with Honda taking the biggest hit of Japan’s big three. This according to the Japanese Automobile Dealer Organization JADA. You may read elsewhere that the Japanese car market is down by that number, but it is not. A full 37 percent of Japanese auto sales do not show up in this statistic.

Mini vehicle sales Japan October 2012ManufacturerOct ’12Oct ’11YoYYTD ’12YTD ’11YoYSuzuki41,49439,2635.7%504,300392,99428.3%Daihatsu44,37252,148-14.9%585,797445,46631.5%Mitsubishi4,7446,074-21.9%69,91379,039-11.5%Subaru2,6106,493-59.8%63,53566,967-5.1%Honda23,88510,306131.8%264,788106,336149.0%Mazda4,0093,8224.9%45,54538,60618.0%Nissan9,76913,225-26.1%133,560119,06312.2%Toyota2,9031,84557.3%37,9262,0611740.2%Other48-50.0%413710.8%Total133,790133,1840.5%1,705,4051,250,56936.4%Data courtesy Japan Mini Vehicles Association

Sales of that Japanese foible, the mini vehicle, or Kei car, actually were up slightly, 0.5 percent to 133,790 units, the Japan Mini Vehicles Association says. The 0.6 liter midget mobiles have seen an amazing resurgence recently. 1.7 million Keis were sold in Japan through October. Sales in the segment were driven by Honda’s N-Box. In September, nearly 20,000 units changed hands. The car received support from the N-Box +, and today from the N-one, a retro-styled Kei that took its cute cues from the N360, the first mass-produced Honda Kei, which was introduced in 1967.

Total vehicle sales Japan October 2012ManufacturerOct ’12Oct ’11YoYYTD ’12YTD ’11YoYDaihatsu44,60552,589-15.2%588,333448,04431.3%Hino2,8762,7942.9%34,91727,72425.9%Honda43,89146,661-5.9%650,257421,14654.4%Isuzu3,6212,93723.3%49,84433,61748.3%Lexus3,1284,308-27.4%37,52836,3283.3%Mazda13,16315,279-13.8%191,377162,96317.4%Mitsubishi10,12010,137-0.2%121,570125,994-3.5%Mitsubishi Fuso2,5552,931-12.8%29,12421,28936.8%Nissan44,52246,856-5.0%574,326491,40416.9%Subaru10,78012,278-12.2%148,426129,08515.0%Suzuki46,43945,2882.5%582,282457,92127.2%Toyota117,308124,053-5.4%1,427,315937,86152.2%UD Trucks707855-17.3%7,5936,63814.4%Other15,61814,14510.4%194,384165,43317.5%Total359,333381,111-5.7%4,637,2763,465,44733.8%

Consolidating regular cars with Keis, the big picture looks like this. The market is 5.9 percent lower than in October 2011. Despite a little, and less than expected weakness in September and October, both Honda and Toyota have grown their sales by more than 40 percent through October. Toyota’s group sales including Daihatsu and Hino are up 45.1 percent.

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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  • L'avventura L'avventura on Nov 01, 2012

    I've always felt that kei-cars were irrelevant to the rest of the world. They've always been a regulational anomaly; limited in dimensions, limited to 660cc and 64 hp, built cheap, often unattractive. However, I think the Honda N-One could be a great basis for an affordable world car. One of the things that Honda is proud of in this car is that it acceleration of the 660cc turbo is equivalent of a 1.3L Honda Fit while still getting 63 mpg (JC08). Its 1,800lb curb-weight can be thanked. In addition the car is quite handsome in a retro sense. Its the closest thing Honda can have to a Mini, VW Bettle, or Fiat 500 retro-chic rival. Clearly, for export to the world, a larger engine (800c or 1L) and foreign factory would be needed (Mexico, Thailand, India, etc). Honda has an opportunity to make truly handsome affordable car. With the right unneeded pork removed, like the LCD touch screen, complex turbo-660cc with CVT, etc. This car could be sold for less than $10k with the right configuration. It would be an ideal car for emerging markets like SE Asia, India, as well as congested developed world countries like Europe.

    • See 1 previous
    • CelticPete CelticPete on Nov 02, 2012

      I think its probably the best car Honda makes now. When automakers stick with what they do well in their home country I feel you get the best results. So sure they should bring it over.. I'd imagine the problem is crash worthiness though.. If it isn't - well it could be a cool small car especially with like a 100hp engine (hopefully a turbo for the torque).

  • BigMeats BigMeats on Nov 01, 2012

    God, that Honda is cute! I wish we could import those as lawn-toys.

  • 3-On-The-Tree Lou_BCsame here I grew up on 2-stroke dirt bikes had a 1985 Yamaha IT200 2-strokes then a 1977 Suzuki GT750 2-stroke 750 streetike fast forward to 2002 as a young flight school Lieutenant I bought a 2002 suzuki Hayabusa 1300 up in Huntsville Alabama. Still have that bike.
  • Milton Rented one for about a month. Very solid EV. Not as fun as my Polestar, but for a go to family car, solid. Practical EV ownership is only made possible with a home charger.
  • J Love mine, but the steering wheel blocks dashboard a bit, can't see turn signals nor headlights icons. They could use the upper corners of the screen for the turn signals. Mileage is much lower than shown too, disappointing
  • Aja8888 NO!
  • OrpheusSail I once did. My first four cars were American made, and through an odd set of circumstances surrounding a divorce, I wound up with a '95 Nissan Maxima which was fourteen years old and had about 150,000 miles on it.It was drove better, had an amazing engine, and was more reliable than any of my American cars. This included a new '95 GMC pickup that went through five alternators in under two years while the dealership insisted that there was no underlying electrical problem while they tried to run the clock on the warranty.That was the end of 'buy American'. I've bought from Honda and VW since, and I'll consider just about anything except American now.