Home > Uncategorized > A sea change at hand.

A sea change at hand.

A cold and damp day in Tokyo, and very little to report in the automotive world – despite the opening of the 41st Tokyo Motor Show. It’s been well and broadly reported that the show this year has suffered, with the vacancies of all but three European exhibitors, with Lotus, Alpina and Caterham as a surprise addition. The Japanese makes have scaled back their plans for the exhibition as well, with fewer concepts than any Tokyo show of recent memory, and a number of old classics (the lovely Mazda RX500, for example) dusted off and thrust out into the spotlight. Suzuki went to the trouble of at least applying new decals to their otherwise unchanged SX4 hydrogen fuel cell prototype I spotted at Motorsport Japan a few weeks back.

My visit to Makuhari Messe will be this coming Sunday, so a complete rundown is to follow. But to keep that post focused on the show, today’s discussion will be less about what’s there (or not) and more about what it means for the Japanese market.

It’s safe to say that the market is in a period of rapid contraction – production is off just over 25% year on year for this August (the most recent available data). It’s also undergoing serious flux, with the market polarizing toward high roof mini-vehicles (kei and subcompacts) and minivans, while traditional sedans and coupes have been abandoned in droves.

Akio Toyoda, the new president of Toyota motors, has pushed through steep internal resistance to secure the production of the LF-A and FT-86, which the Toyota board and senior managment see as useless, loss-making ventures which run counter to Toyota’s image. Takanobu Ito, the man now at the helm of Honda, recently went on the record as saying that he doesn’t regret his predecessors decisions to end Honda’s participation in F1 and end the development of the NSX replacement, and feels that a commitment to green is the surest way for the company to ensure it’s future.

From a business standpoint, they’re giving the consumer more of what they want. The Lexus HS250h has more than six months of backlog, and a downmarket Toyota variant, the Sai, is being exhibited now. The Prius is set to be the top seller in Japan this year, followed home by the Insight, with the WagonR kei car and Fit (Jazz in Europe) compact falling close behind. Amongst Japanese consumers, green is clearly the new black.

But one wonders if the dwindling number of auto sales in Japan might have to do with the fact that driving these cars can hardly be described as fun.

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Categories: Uncategorized

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