Japanese Automakers Desperate to Spackle Gaps in Their Lineup

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
japanese automakers desperate to spackle gaps in their lineup

With trucks and crossovers dominating more of the market every month, Japanese automakers are making every effort to bring in new models that will satisfy consumer demands. Soundly constructed economy vehicles have long been the cornerstone of most Japanese nameplates but, with reliability improving among many brands and fuel efficiency being less important to consumers, we’re seeing a shift in the Far East.

Everyone from Toyota, Mazda, Honda, and Nissan have all expressed plans to focus on light trucks this year. Some Japanese brands are even banking on the continued growth of the segment to stage their comeback. “I think SUV sales will continue growing even if gas prices rise,” Mitsubishi CEO Osamu Masuko explained, citing the consumer appeal of higher seating and overall sense of safety. “The SUV segment is increasing its market share worldwide, and this is where we have long been strong,” he said. “So, we will continue to make full use of this technology.”

Foreign exchange losses really hampered the profitability of Japanese companies over the last year. However, shrinking car sales only exacerbated the problem. Car sales in the United States fell 12 percent over the first four months of 2017, while light truck sales increased by 4.4 percent. The majority of those brands specifically cited those factors as detrimental to their financial wellbeing.

According to Automotive News, Toyota Executive Vice President Osamu Nagata promised more of what the market craves, after it announced a 30 percent dive in operating profits over the last fiscal year. “We have been increasing capacity for SUVs and pickups, and we will make full use of that to increase supply of light trucks,” he said.

After being crippled by costs associated with the Takata airbag recall a year earlier, Honda was one of the few companies that saw improved profitability. With the market already swooning over its CR-V, the brand seems keenly aware that it already has a winning strategy. “We are working to increase the output of SUVs,” Honda Executive Vice President Seiji Kuraishi said. “If we can put that on a steady track and sell SUVs, we believe we can make use of our strengths.”

[Image: Honda]

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  • Rocket Rocket on May 14, 2017

    Toyota should have fixed the Venza's problems rather than discontinue it. The Venza was a solid idea, it was just poorly executed. Giving up and leaving that segment to the Edge and Murano was a quitter's move. The Crosstour ... well, Honda was wise to give that thing the ax. Although just like Toyota, the failure was the result of poor execution. (Really, REALLY poor.) The Passport or whatever is filling the gap between the CR-V and Pilot can't get here soon enough.

    • Highdesertcat Highdesertcat on May 15, 2017

      I hated to see the Venza go. The V6 AWD version was very popular with certain demographics because it was just the right height and easy to get into and out of. The AWD made the Venza as sure-footed as a Subaru. The rationale for discontinuing the Venza in the US was that it took sales from the Highlander, while never being a sales success of its own. The only thing I could see wrong with the Venza was the 4-cyl FWD version, and that the Venza was very pricey.

  • Deanst Deanst on May 14, 2017

    If we are talking true body-on-frame SUVs, I found it interesting to note that Toyota makes 5 of the last 15 models available today - or 33%. All the ny times liberal editiorial columnists would be shocked to note that their poster boy for reliability and efficiency is now leading in fuel swilling excess.

    • See 2 previous
    • Loser Loser on May 15, 2017

      @highdesertcat Not worrying about fuel economy, gas is cheap and plentiful. What could possibly ever go wrong with this logic? Think we have all seen this movie quite a few times before, people never learn.

  • MaintenanceCosts Where's a gas inline six, for that torque and nice sound without all the diesel stink? Oh, that's right; GM being GM, they prematurely canceled it.
  • FreedMike I nominate the 1980 Thunderbird as the worst malaise car ever. My brother got one used and promptly totaled it out. In retrospect, that was a mercy killing.
  • Vulpine Regretfully, rather boring. Nothing truly unique, though the M715 is a real eye-grabber.
  • Parkave231 This counts for the Rare Rides installment on the Fox Cougar and Fox Thunderbird too, right? Don't want to ever have to revisit those......(They should have just called them Monarch/Marquis and Granada/LTD II and everything would have been fine.)
  • DM335 The 1983 Thunderbird and Cougar were introduced later than the rest of the 1983 models. If I recall correctly, the first models arrived in January or February 1983. I'm not sure when they were unveiled, but that would explain why the full-line brochures for Ford and Mercury were missing the Thunderbird and Cougar--at least the first version printed.The 1980 Cougar XR-7 had the same 108.4 inch wheelbase as the 1980 Thunderbird. The Cougar coupe, sedan and wagon had the shorter wheelbase, as did the Ford Granada.