Maserati, the luxury car brand of Italian maker Fiat, and the global appeal that is Volkswagen AG are the first among other foreign automakers who are having their best sales year in Japan so far. Many people are deriding Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s “Abenomics,” but it seems that there is real purchasing power available for some under the upturn in Japan’s economy, and foreign car manufacturers are enjoying a sales boom in the home country of global car leader Toyota and other renowned Japanese car makers.
Consumers are actually enjoying a 57 percent bump in the Nikkei in 2013 – this being Japan’s steepest increase in four decades – and they been spending their money on imported sports cars and compacts. According to data from the Japan Automobile Importers Association, over 300,000 non-Japanese cars were sold in the country – the most since 1997 – in the fiscal year that ended in March 31. The consumers are falling in love with the exotic feel of foreign cars, even though their country is home to the world’s leaders in car manufacturing. “When I opened the door, the colors and interior immediately evoked Italy. The sound of the muffler got my heart racing,” Taichi Matsukura, a 42-year-old restaurant designer, said about the Fiat Abarth 595C that he bought to replace his Honda CR-V. “I don’t play pachinko or golf. So at least I deserve a car to excite myself.”
Foreign automakers have perennially struggled to make inroads to Japan. Ford Motor Co. Chief Executive Officer Alan Mulally called Japan the “most closed car market in the world.” Currently, models from the traditionally strong domestic car makers account for 90 percent of car sales in the country. Two of every three models sold are “kei” cars – these small and trendy box-type, easy-to-handle cars that are so famous in urban and rural areas alike. But last year was a real boon to foreign manufacturers. Maserati, whose Gran Turismo model starts from 22 million yen (around USD$217,000), more than doubled deliveries in Japan to 714 vehicles in the year ended March, the biggest gain among luxury brands. In compact cars, Volkswagen AG’s new Golf model came the closest to breaking the Japanese “kei” hegemony, with about 31,000 sold. The Golf became the first foreign model named Japan’s “Car of the Year”, awarded by the nation’s automotive press. VW’s delivery of compact cars increased 25 percent through March – around 72,000 units – making it the best-selling foreign car maker for a 14th straight year.