Raw Japan

Slices of Japanese business, politics and life

Yes, there is a difference between American and Japanese cars

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By Bob Lutz
The opinions expressed are his own.

A lot of words have been written in the past few post-tsunami weeks about the negative impact of the disastrous tragedy on the short-term future of Japanese cars in the U.S. market. In parallel, many articles proclaim this to be a “historical window of opportunity” for the “Detroit Three,” now able to deliver to waiting customers an abundant supply of new vehicles while, at Toyota, Honda and Nissan, the cupboard is bare.

It’s telling that we’re *not* hearing the Japanese-brands inspired propaganda offensive of a few years back, when the media duly repeated that “there is no longer such a thing as an American car or a Japanese car.” The Japanese, it was stated, now all have plants in the U.S., whereas most U..S companies import components from the Far East, or Latin America,  thus compromising the promise of saving U.S. jobs. For buyers with a patriotic streak, it was all-American-apple-pie-OK to buy a Japanese brand, these being “just as American” as a Ford, Chevrolet, Dodge or Jeep. The (then) World’s Smartest and Finest Car Company, Toyota, even placed ads asking who’s more American? Toyota USA, adding manufacturing jobs and plants in the U.S., or the Detroit Three, busily, at that time, laying off workers and shuttering plants?

Fast-forward to the earthquake and tidal wave of 2011: the allegedly red-white-and blue Japanese brands suddenly find their supply lines dried up, while the supposedly import-component laden domestic cars, (albeit with some minor work-around shortages) continue to deliver a river of new vehicles, unabated. And, thus, another popular myth bites the dust.

In the past months the Detroit Three have, in fact, come roaring back. The Chevrolet Malibu, the 2007 “Car of the Year,” has shouldered past the Japanese brands and is now the number one car in the mid-size segment. Even more astonishing is the Chevrolet “Cruze,” a best seller around the world, and now America’s number one compact car, relegating the perennial favorites, Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla, to the runner-up spots.

from Ben Gruber:

My experience covering Japan’s earthquake and tsunami.

People have been asking me about my recent coverage of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, wondering what sticks out in my memory. After some reflection, one part of my experience keeps rising to the top - the mountain tunnels.

HOUSE BOAT

The Reuters multimedia team was based in the north-east town of Tono, a small mountain town situated above the coastline. Tono had an eerie feeling to it, almost all of the shops and restaurants were closed. But you wouldn't know the town had been rocked by a massive earthquake. There were no physical signs.

from Global News Journal:

Japan PM under fire — from his wife

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan faces plenty of grilling from the opposition camp but his toughest critic might be the one he calls "the opposition party within his own household" -- his wife.

G20/

"Since I know him very well, I wonder -- is it okay that this person is prime minister?" Nobuko Kan, Naoto's wife of 40 years, writes in her new book titled "What on earth will change in Japan now you are prime minister?"

from Photographers' Blog:

This job stinks

As a photographer, I have the privilege to encounter rare glimpses of the strange and unusual. Most of the time I am thankful to get such an assignment but this particular one turned out to be a mixture of delight and displeasure.

The subject was a Titan arum, or Amorphophallus titanium, one of the world’s largest and rarest plants, which was blooming for the first time in nearly 20 years at a botanical garden in Tokyo. The first visitors lined up from 6:30 am and by the time the gate opened at 10 am, 1600 people had formed a long queue despite the sweltering Tokyo summer heat. The excited crowd was attracted by extensive TV coverage and in the newspaper about this unusual flower that only blooms for two days after taking 16 years to grow from a seedling.

from Global News Journal:

Japan voters seek change, may get chaos

Five years ago, Japanese voters seeking change from stale politics and a stagnant economy backed maverick leader Junichiro Koizumi's calls for reform, handing his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) a huge win in an election for parliament's powerful lower house.

Two years, several scandals and one incompetent prime minister later, they dealt the same LDP a stinging setback in a 2007  upper house election, creating a "Twisted Parliament" where the upper chamber could stall bills and delay policies.

from Global News Journal:

Japan’s not-so-hot election

Candidates on the campaign trail in Japan are sweating through the summer heat but voters have been cool towards this Sunday's upper house election.

Sure, the government won't change because the ruling Democratic Party will still control the more powerful lower house.

from Photographers' Blog:

Samurais in South Africa

I arrived in South Africa with the Japan team filled with excitement and an acute feeling of anxiety. Never mind that I would be on the scene to cover the world's biggest sporting event, and never mind that I would be competing against the top sports photographers from around the globe to get the best pictures. For a Reuters photographer like myself dedicated to a single team, when your team drops out of the competition, you're finished. Like the defeated team, you go back to the hotel, pack your bags and spend the long flight home wondering what went wrong. Based on Japan's lackluster showing in the East Asia Soccer Championship my expectation for Japan was three defeats in a row and no victories. Mine would be a short stay in South Africa.

A Japanese boy living in South Africa reacts as he watches Japan's national soccer team depart from South Africa at O.R. Tambo airport in Johannesburg June 30, 2010. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

But during Japan's first match against Cameroon the Samurai Blue seemed to transform themselves in front of my eyes with Keisuke Honda’s goal being the catalyst. Japan was defeated by the Netherlands in their second match but the Samurais demonstrated the unity of the team in their performance and they were victorious against Denmark in their third match. In doing so they completely wiped out the image that I held of the Japan team before going into the competition. I was covering the world's biggest sporting event, and I was going up against the top sports photographers, but in this World Cup Japan's victory meant that the formidable teams of France and Italy and the even more formidable photographers accompanying them were going home. Not me.

from Photographers' Blog:

Cheering on an aging Japan

When I first heard there was a 78-year old cheerleader in Japan who wears metallic silver wigs and waves gold pom-poms as she jumps and dances in her shiny red sequined costume, it instantly made me curious to find out what kind of person she is.

Japan's cheerleaders.  REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao

Everyone knows by now that people in Japan live a long time. According to the World Health Organization's latest life expectancy figures Japanese women remain at number one (life expectancy: 86 years), but I had never heard of an 80-year-old cheerleader.

from Global News Journal:

Remembering Hiro’s gentle smile

As Hiro Muramoto headed out the door of the Tokyo newsroom last week, weighed down with TV equipment on his way to Bangkok to cover demonstrations, he flashed a smile at a Reuters colleague.

It was, she remembers, a "Hiro" smile. It was gentle, rather than a broad grin, and it showed the 43-year-old was pleased once again to take his expertise on the road to do his job telling the world what was going on.THAILAND/

from Reuters Editors:

Another dreadful loss in the Reuters family

The following is the text of a staff email sent this morning by Editor-in-Chief David Schlesinger.

The news that our colleague, Hiro Muramoto, was shot and killed covering the violence in Bangkok broke on Saturday.

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