What I Learned About American Cars in Japan
Konnichiha! Yes, that’s spelled correctly. I’m fresh off the plane from my recent trip to Japan and I couldn’t wait to share my experience with the automotive scene there. After spending a week in several different cities across the country I can safely say the following: Toyota’s look totally different, they love cars shaped like boxes, luxury imports are very common, and there are literally no American cars anywhere.
American cars are not popular in Japan and are very rare. How many American cars did I see while I was in Japan? Exactly one. A yellow Chevrolet Camaro that I spotted in Tokyo. And that’s it! One car out of like 700 trillion cars. I saw more exotic cars than I did domestic cars.
The Japanese people don’t want American cars, nor do they want American dealerships. This is the truth, regardless of what King Trump says. Japan does not have import tariffs or unfair trade deals with the US. The consumers simply do not want American cars. It’s very clear as you make your way around the country. There are luxury cars everywhere, but not a single American vehicle in sight.
Why No One Wants American Cars in Japan
- Terrible dealerships
- Poor quality and bad construction
- Too big for Japanese roads
- The high cost of ownership
American Car Dealerships are Trash
Japanese customer service is simply unmatched anywhere in the world and that’s certainly true for car dealerships. My guide on how to buy a car here in America has drawn some flack from some of my friends in the industry, but it hardly compares to what car salesmen do for you in Japan.
When you want to buy a car in Japan simply call a dealership and explain what kind of car you want to buy. A car salesman will then come to your home with a couple of Demo vehicles
Once you test drive and choose a car to purchase, the dealership also handles the car insurance coming to your home whenever you need to renew. Anyone who has dealt with an insurance company knows this is one of the most amazing things ever, but it gets better.
Japanese car dealerships also offer free services and maintenance. I’m not just talking about the free carwashes either. When your car needs service or repairs in Japan the dealership comes to your home to pick it up, returning it once the required repairs or service is complete.
The Japanese don’t want to buy a car the way Americans do. They expect more and therefore they get more and simultaneously correct the market so that American manufacturers don’t even try to set up shop there. They have erased shitty car dealerships by allowing demand to drive what is provided to them – something I have been advocating for here.
Low-Quality American Cars in Japan Don’t Fly
It’s not just about shitty dealerships, the Japanese don’t want our shitty cars either. I’ve said before that American cars are total garbage and I have some friends that believe Japanese cars are garbage but let’s get down to facts.
Did you know that in 1995 Toyota tried to sell GM cars as Toyotas through their dealership network in Japan? That’s right – through a partnership, GM had the opportunity to tap into the Japanese market and in GM fashion they totally blew it.
The Cavelier was a hype train that came to a grinding halt when Toyota engineers began returning massive numbers of the car back to its “special” finishing plant in Lordstown, Ohio due to quality issues. A plant specifically set up and designed by GM to ensure “extra quality”. Like I said Garbage.
That critical event solidified their beliefs and left a bad taste in the mouths of the Japanese consumers.
American Cars are Too Big
As I have said before in my rants on SUVs and CUVs American Cars have gotten too big. American Cars in Japan look massive by comparison and that’s because they are. This really personifies a big difference between Japanese and Americans.
The Japanese are super conscious of other people. They are a conservationist society and understand that everyone has to pitch in to make things work. Therefore, large cars don’t fit into the scheme of things in Japan. The largest cars I saw on my trip to Japan were Minivans and Porsche Cayennes.
Japanese streets are smaller and denser, but somehow there was rarely large traffic jams when I was there. That’s due in part to phenomenal local transit systems but is also related to the fact that large cars aren’t blocking side streets, exits, and intersections.
Some new trucks and SUV’s don’t even fit in the average garage anymore. I can’t understand why consumers want this, but unfortunately, it’s not likely to change.
American Cars Cost More to Maintain
By comparison, American Cars in Japan are far more expensive to maintain and repair. Customers have to order parts from overseas providers making them more expensive. The average American vehicle has a shorter maintenance interval than Japanese cars.
While I was in Japan I saw tons of luxury cars. The cost to maintain luxury cars has always been higher than domestic cars, but in Japan, they are everywhere. That says a lot about the perception of American vehicles.
Finally, the fuel cost is substantially higher. This is an obvious observation, but it’s important. As I have said, the Japanese are very keen on conservation. This makes them very conscious of fossil fuel cost, both financially and environmentally.
American Cars in Japan are Less Common Than Luxury Cars
I saw countless luxury cars all over the country. Porsche’s and BMW’s are common and Mercedes-Benzes are everywhere. This is not because there is a lot of money in Japan, but rather a perceived value amongst consumers. People view American Cars in Japan as poor quality and expensive. The worst of both worlds.
It was fascinating to see these brand new luxury cars across the backdrop of the older streets across Japan. Bentley’s were commonplace and I saw several Ferrari’s and Lamborghini’s. Mercedes is the most popular import car in Japan and they are everywhere. AMG’s became so common I stopped noticing them after a while.
BMW is the second most imported brand as of 2017 and I saw a number of M4’s, M3’s and M2’s. Even more surprising was the number of Porsche’s driving around. You would be walking through some back alley, turn a corner and there would be a brand new Panamera Turbo just sitting there.
Japan is an amazing place with tons of amazing people and amazing cars. My visit to the country changed how I view American cars and dealerships. I’m grateful for the experience.
The Future for American Cars in Japan
Honestly, there isn’t a future for American cars in Japan. American automakers don’t advertise in any way in Japan and they make no attempt to understand the consumer base. They don’t even attempt to understand the consumers in their own country. That’s why Ford is in such trouble currently.
Before American automakers can even attempt to compete in the Japanese market they need to begin to address their problems at home. Consumers deserve better dealership networks and demand higher quality cars. Domestic automakers must provide these things or they will not last.
This isn’t such a bad thing. The solution for American automakers is simple and if they address the demands and of consumers beyond creating more shitty SUVs then they can again be successful. But, I still don’t think American cars will ever really be in high demand in Japan. American cars in Japan are sort of like chop-sticks in America. They just aren’t necessary.