By on October 1, 2017

jeep renegade grille

It’s no secret the Japanese marketplace has never made room for American automobiles. Western cars have a serious image problem in the Land of the Rising Sun, compounded by an exceptionally high cost of entry that prohibits outside companies from wanting to risk establishing an extensive dealer network. The end result is a handful of American cars being sold every year — primarily in boutique shops as novelty items.

The exceptions are premium offerings from Europe and Jeep. That isn’t to suggest that Jeep products are common place in Japan but they are one of the few domestic offerings that have achieved any kind of sales consistency or growth within the country. It’s carving out a small place for itself in the Eastern market and putting other American brands to shame.

Jeep has a storied history in Japan. In the mid-nineties, it was mixing it up with other domestic brands — made more viable by a favorable exchange rate. A few years later, foreign automakers saw their already meager sales dwindling to practically nothing and some (Ford for instance) pulled out of the country entirely. But Jeep held on and became America’s number one brand in Japan.

That still places it as 20th overall. But with Chevrolet, America’s second most-popular brand in the country, selling fewer vehicles per year than most supercar manufacturers, Jeep is doing comparatively well — even if it only moved 6,344 vehicles through August.

However, last year, Jeep saw 9,392 Japanese deliveries — a  31.7 percent improvement over 2015’s summary. It has also made inroads within China as it strives to be a globally relevant brand. It’s not king of the mountain in Asia but it’s definitely finding footholds and making progress as other outsiders plummet to their deaths. What is it doing differently?

According to Automotive News, catering to the Japanese population has been a large part of its success. In 2009 Jeep was averaging around 1,000 annual units. But eight years of consecutive growth have more than octupled that figure. During that time, the brand has ensured owners can find its products with right-hand drive, factory-installed Japanese navigation systems, and modified powertrains that take advantage of the country’s eco-car incentives.

It has also bolstered its marketing output significantly. American brands rarely advertise their vehicles in mainstream Japanese media but Jeep has doubled its advertising budget for the country.

“American cars have a bad image — they aren’t fuel-efficient, they break down,” said Japanese-born American automobile enthusiast Yoshihiro Masui in February. “That’s not really true anymore, but dealers don’t make an effort to convince people. I’ve never seen a TV commercial. You go to a car show, they’re not there.”

Jeep is the exception. It returned to the Tokyo Motor Show in 2015 and has spent the last few years expanding its dealer network. It has also been refurbishing its old showrooms to create a desirable ambiance for prospective customers.

“We have to spend money and engineering hours to do it, but we think it’s worth it,” FCA Japan CEO Pontus Haggstrom told Automotive News. He said another upgraded Jeep showroom will be opening in central Japan city this year, but Fiat Chrysler is aiming to refurbish 50 existing stores by the end of 2018.

“It’s more about the brand and less about the origin,” he continued. “In previous stores, it was very much the U.S. dealership transplanted in Japan.”

At some of the dealerships Haggstrom says there will be large parking lots (a luxury in Japan’s urban areas), flattering lighting, large windows, updated air conditioning, modernized service centers, and attendants waiting on customers to take drink orders. Jeep wants to create a premium experience on par with European luxury brands, because those are now its main rivals within the region.

[Image: FCA]

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39 Comments on “Japan Still Isn’t Fond of American Automobiles — Except for Jeep...”

  • avatar

    It’s funny that Fiat can figure out how to market Jeeps in Japan but can’t figure out how to market Fiats in the US. I guess all it took for a US brand to sincerely target the Japanese market was for it to stop being a US brand. What’s the model mix? Are they mostly selling badge-engineered Fiats that are made in Europe?

    • 0 avatar

      A Jeep says I can go anywhere anytime, I’m rugged and independent. A Fiat says small, uncomfortable, and Enterprise rental car.

      • 0 avatar

        I’ve never gotten a rental Fiat 500. Where can I find one?

        • 0 avatar

          Hertz gave me one when I had to take my Golf…uhhh…off road to avoid a head on collision with a Ford Expedition a couple of years ago. We’d just had a snow storm here and Alabamians can’t drive so all of the body shops were overbooked. I had the sucker for a month. The first two weeks were lots of fun and then it became tiresome–loud, rode rough, short on power. The Golf felt like an S-Class when I got it back.

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t think the success in Japan is new to FCA, I was under the impression they’ve done well there for quite some time. Even in parts of Europe that are pretty anti-American car you still see lots of older Cherokees.

    • 0 avatar
      Guitar man


      Chrysler-Jeep make vehicles in RHD.

      Ford and GM refuse to sell Us-made vehicles in LHD for the Japanese market. At one point GM was actually selling Korean made vehicles (which are made in RHD) in Japan with LHD and complained to Congress that “the Japanese don’t allow foreign competition”.

  • avatar
    Middle-Aged Miata Man

    “‘American cars have a bad image — they aren’t fuel-efficient, they break down,” said Japanese-born American automobile enthusiast Yoshihiro Masui in February.”

    Yeah, that certainly doesn’t describe Fiasler or Jeep!

    It’s deeply ironic the “American” products Japan prefers come from a manufacturer with the absolute worst track record for quality and reliability.

    • 0 avatar

      @MAMM: When is the last time you owned an FCA product?

      To be blunt, you’re relying on an obsolete reputation and highly untrustworthy auto reviewing agencies to make your statement. I’ve owned two FCA products in the last four years, and neither of them has shown any quality or reliability issues.

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al From 'Murica

        I was going to pass on FCA based on all of those objective sources saying they are middle of the road at absolute best. But your anecdotal testimony has made me change my mind. Who knew #fakenews had hit Fiat.

        • 0 avatar

          Well, there’s a difference between Fiat models and the legacy Chrysler models. The former were designed and built for Europe, and the latter were designed and built for American roads.

          That “middle of the road at absolute best” is pretty accurate for the Chrysler cars, due to age and lack of development under Daimler and Cerberus, but the Fiat reputation is applied to them, making a lot of people think they’re ALL junk.

          The inconsistent quality of components from suppliers is something FCA management doesn’t have a handle on, but that means it’s very possible that Vulpine got decent quality parts properly assembled in his FCA vehicles.

      • 0 avatar
        Middle-Aged Miata Man

        My experiences with a slew of 200, 300 and Cherokee rentals are enough to inform my opinion, thanks.

        Why would I spend my money on vehicles that are, across the board, consistently near the very bottom of initial quality and reliability ratings… And not just one, but damn near ALL of them!?!

        Glad you haven’t been burned yet by your two Fiaslers. You’re a much braver man than I.

        • 0 avatar

          My Charger is not well built and I’ve had several warranty claims but the V8 + RWD setup, low purchase price, and the general lack of sophistication are a nice salve.

          It’s a Cousin Eddie E60 550i. If I had an Optima or something I’m sure I’d avoid some frustration, but I also wouldn’t spend Sunday afternoons rolling around rural roads in the Kia the way I do with the Dodge.

          • 0 avatar
            Bill Wade

            I’ve been lucky. My Challenger RT has not been to the dealer for anything nor did I have any issues out of the ordinary with a RAM that I had 200k on it.

            The kid I sold it to has been happy with it.

            Our 2008 4Runner has been rather troublesome yet it’s rated as extremely reliable. Heck, it even has cold start piston slap from day one which Toyota said too bad, live with it, and no mechanic I’ve talked to, including Toyota mechanics, had ever heard of on the 4.7.

            I think a lot of it is luck of the draw.

      • 0 avatar
        White Shadow

        I’ve owned two Grand Cherokees for the past three years and they are both riddled with problems. It’s not just bad luck, either.

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al From 'Murica

        500 is a $#!+box … FACT

        • 0 avatar

          My wife is still loving hers after two years and 34k miles. No major problems and she smiles every time she gets in it. Having driven it quite a bit and rented subcompacts from Mazda (2) and Toyota (Yaris hatch), the Fiat rides better and is quieter than either of them. FACTS

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al From 'Murica

            So its a reliable $#!+box. That little white spot on the top of a piece of chicken$#!+ is still chicken$#!+

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al From 'Murica

        To be blunt, I wouldn’t wipe the hole of me arse with your anecdotal “evidence”. These cars are universally acclaimed as garbage. I get it, you bought one. So far you’ve beaten the odds but that doesn’t change the fact that most are utter $#!+boxes.

    • 0 avatar

      “It’s deeply ironic the “American” products Japan prefers come from a manufacturer with the absolute worst track record for quality and reliability.”

      That’s because Japanese buyers aren’t thinking about FCA, Fiat or Fiat’s less-than-stellar reliability record in the U.S. All they see when they see Jeep is…well…”Jeep”.

  • avatar

    Saw a video out of Japan where locals were drifting their riced-out Dodge vans. It was the weirdest yet most awesome thing! I think they call them “Dajiban.” YouTube it when bored!

  • avatar

    >During that time, the brand has ensured owners can find its products with right-hand drive, factory-installed Japanese navigation systems, and modified powertrains that take advantage of the country’s eco-car incentives.

    Yes, it turns out that when you start responding to the tastes of the market you do in fact sell better. Joking aside, I find it interesting that these features are considered exceptional to the Japanese market and that Jeep providing these options is considered special among American exports to Japan. It speaks to the inflexible mindset of the average corporate behemoth that they wouldn’t offer right-hand drive or Japanese sat-nav for exports to the Japanese market.

    Sometimes I think the 70s and 80s taught the wrong lessons to car manufacturers. Sure, there are cost-savings from standardizing everything and focusing on achieving economies of scale. But cars are now made to the cater to the lowest common denominator, even if it means a product that ignores the preferences and needs of regional markets.

    >“It’s more about the brand and less about the origin,” he continued. “In previous stores, it was very much the U.S. dealership transplanted in Japan.”

    This is the stupid way to do things. I personally hate the US dealership experience, but I can see why people have adapted to it. But why would you take it to a country with such a distinct business culture and expect it to work?

  • avatar

    This article does not fully go into detail as to why Jeep is the best selling American brand in Japan. Jeep’s entire line-up has been made in RHD since the mid 90s having RHD Wranglers, Cherokees and Grand Cherokees. But during this time Ford and General Motors sold more vehicles in Japan. There must be more of a reason as to Jeep’s sudden surge in sales in Japan outside of just offering RHD because Jeep has been doing this for the longest. Could it just simply be more marketing and dealership network? I don’t know.

  • avatar

    Keep in mind there were Japanese who loved Leyland. The AD016 or Austin America was a favorite. Vanden Plas editions today lovingly refurbished and used as mini Rolls Royce wedding cake.

  • avatar

    RHD pretty much has to be a given to sell in a rhd market. i guess the JDM GPS is a nice touch. is GPS a thing there? i realize it kinda is here, but i just used google maps on my phone clipped to a magnet/vent mount for the first time… and its better than any GPS ive had in the past. so good i dont see myself buying another GPS, and selling the outdated (said free lifetime updates… wont do crap about it) so yeah.

    • 0 avatar

      I wonder how true this is because General Motors was the best selling importer, out selling Mercedes in Japan up until the late 70s and keep in mind those vehicles were LHD only, were huge (imagine driving a circa 1970s Cadillac Eldorado in Japan), and had large displacement engines (7.0 liter V8 engine). If anything the LHD American cars sold in Japan by GM are more suited to Japan now than ever before yet sell way less than they did in the late 70s.

  • avatar

    Not sure about GM, but Ford’s main effort before they left Japan was with the Explorer and the Mustang.
    Nissan don’t bother with the Pathfinder, Honda don’t bother with the Pilot, Toyota don’t bother with the Highlander, Mazda don’t bother with the CX9.
    For coupes, Toyota tried with the 86 twins to dismal sales, Mazda has the Miata which sells well but has a looooong history behind it, and that’s it.

    I’m not sure it’s a closed market, just marketing the wrong product??
    Where’s the Focus and Fiesta and S-Max and C-Max and the other cars people might want?

  • avatar

    “‘American cars have a bad image — they aren’t fuel-efficient, they break down,”

    I think they’re talking about Nissan.

  • avatar

    Does Tesla have a presence in Japan? They would be the US brand to succeed there. Jeep is succeeding because it has a strong brand, so it is unique to have a Wrangler there. No one cares about a Chevy Cruze there.

  • avatar

    For a long time, there wasn’t much of a need to sell American vehicles in Japan. The Big 3 had their arrangements and agreements with their Japanese “captive” brands in the 70’s & 80’s, US producers weren’t trying to sell regular cars there very hard. One thing, I can’t remember if the US carmakers had to partner up with a Japanese company, similar to what exists now in China.

    In the 70’s, both GM & Ford partnered with Mazda, for example. At one time, GM had control of Isuzu and Suzuki and we all remember the long time partnerships that Ford and Mazda and Chrysler and Mitsubishi created.

    I don’t think it really was until the mid-90’s that we got this idea we should be selling our USDM cars in Japan. Even our smallest cars are quite large there, with large engines that jack up tax rates for owners. The ill-fated (and ill-conceived, IMO) idea to sell the Toyota Cavalier should have been seen as a non-starter from the beginning.

    It should be noted that some folks on here will argue that there are no barriers to importing “foreign” cars into Japan. While on paper that may be true, but I can remember a report on this blog about how Hyundai was having trouble getting their cars certified for sale in Japan. IIRC, they gave up and stopped selling there. Apparently the inspection process at the port is quite rigid, if the cars there show a defect then, the whole lot does not get into the country. Maybe someone can refresh my memory.

    FWIW, congrats to FCA, at least they’ve got a victory somewhere in the world…

    • 0 avatar

      No American car makers did not have to partner with a domestic Japanese car maker to sell cars in Japan. GM sold Chevrolets and Opels through Isuzu dealerships in Japan. Buick and Cadillac could not be sold through Isuzu because Yanase had exclusive distribution rights on those marks in Japan.Ford sold their cars through Mazda dealerships called Autorama. Chrysler sold their cars through Mitsubishi dealerships. While Jeeps were sold at Honda Primo dealerships in Japan.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    I don’t recall ever seeing a Jeep during my visits, but one of the very first cars I saw in Japan, while riding the NEX train from the airport, was…. a yellow Hummer H2. It was parked among a small group of other cars in a rural area just outside the airport grounds. I was so disappointed.

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