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Little action at Tokyo auto show

The ongoing auto show in Tokyo has been notable on several fronts.

The ongoing auto show in Tokyo has been notable on several fronts.

For one thing, unlike the North America shows, the Japanese show continues to feature a predominance of female “presenters” on the show stands. Is there a shortage of male models in Japan?

Someone should investigate. I’ll even help acquire evidence; by using my digital camera to fully document how rampant is this “female presenter” phenomena.

This year’s show was also notable for the absence of every major non-Japanese automaker. No Ford, No VW no Fiat, No Jaguar. Not even a representative from nearby Korea.

“Tokyo has been regulated to regional show status,” says Mike Robinet, a native of Windsor, Ont., who is now the global analyst for CMS Forecasting, a Michigan-based firm who supplies auto industry forecasts to clients around the world, including many automakers.

Mike notes that historically, automakers would go anywhere the global media showed up. Nowadays, they only go to shows that represent markets where they can sell some vehicles.

Via a combination of strict import regulations, and other factors (both cultural and economic), very few imports are sold in Japan.

Notes Robinet: “The number of Chevys sold in Japan, is between zero and a small number.”

In that part of the world the action is definitely in China, which has just supplanted the U.S. as the world’s biggest auto market.

The action is definitely not in Japan, which is proving tough even for its homegrown automakers. Put that down to a sagging economy and demographics; the latter characterized by low birth rates, low immigration, and a mature population starting to downsize their vehicles.

According to Robinet, this means Japanese automakers will focus on export markets even more than they have in the past. But what’s going to hurt them there is the yen. “As the yen continues to appreciate, they become less and less competitive.”

The way to get around that is to build cars where you sell them. So expect to see more Japanese brand production in North America, particularly in Mexico.

The other thing to expect from Japanese makers is more focus on fun and emotional cars. With every one matching them on quality, they need another calling card.

Obviously there have been lots of fun and exciting cars that have originated from Japan, but also lots of instances where Japan played it safe, perhaps too safe.

We already saw some shift toward the enlightenment at this year’s show, when Lexus unveiled its new halo car — the LFA — a $375,000 (US), V10, mid-engine, super car, that looks like a sexy transformer.

Like everyone else, the Japanese industry got hit in the stomach by the economic meltdown.

Robinet feels they may even have been the slowest of the global industries to adjust to new realties. Some of the smaller Japanese companies have particularly hard rows to hoe, in this current market. But don’t mistake a lull, for anything else.

“I’ve always been taught never to count them out,” said Robinet. So we won’t either.

– Michael Goetz has been writing about cars and editing automotive publications for over 20 years. He lives in Toronto with his family and a neglected 1967 Jaguar E-type.

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