Raw Japan

Slices of Japanese business, politics and life

Yes, there is a difference between American and Japanese cars

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 Russell Boyce:

The politics of bowing in Japan – How low do you go?

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By Michael Caronna, Chief Photographer Japan

In Japan nothing says I'm sorry like a nice, deep bow, and lately there's been a whole lot to be sorry for. Ideally the depth of the bow should match the level of regret, allowing observers to make judgements about how sincere the apology really is. Facing massive recalls Toyota President Akio Toyoda and Toyota Motor Corp's managing director Yuji Yokoyama faced journalists at separate news conferences.

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Toyota Motor Corp's managing director Yuji Yokoyama (R) bows after submitting a document of a recall to an official of the Transport Ministry Ryuji Masuno (2nd R) at the Transport Ministry in Tokyo February 9, 2010. Toyota Motor Corp is recalling nearly half a million of its flagship Prius and other hybrid cars for braking problems, a third major recall since September and a further blow to the reputation of the world's largest automaker.      REUTERS/Toru Hanai

Electric dreams

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The Tokyo Motor Show later this month is expected to be a very understated event, with foreign carmaker participation almost nil and outlays by Japanese firms reflecting hard times in the industry.

But Electric Vehicles, or EVs, and hybrids will be on display in force, with Toyota, Honda and Nissan giving previews ahead of the late October show.

Honda’s new wheel

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It looks deceptively simple: a stool with a wheel, or an electric unicycle.

But Honda Motor, maker of cars, motorbikes, robots and aircraft, says it embodies state-of-the-art technology and may one day become the smallest means of transport for humans.

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I saw the new U3-X at a Honda media launch. It’s shaped like a figure-8 and moves in any direction set by the person sitting on top, by leaning their body back, forth and sideways.

from Left field:

Will there be a Japanese Grand Prix next year?

fujiToyota-owned Fuji's announcement that they are pulling the plug on hosting the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix leaves a question mark over the country's future on the championship calendar.

Fuji had been due to host the race next year as part of an agreement to alternate with Honda-owned Suzuka. However since that deal was done, Honda have pulled out of Formula One and may not have too much of an incentive to pick up the slack.

Toyota Prius: Will it live up to its name?

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When Honda‘s new Insight hybrid debuted in Japan last month, many journalists referred to it as the “Prius fighter”. Less than two months later, we’re talking about Toyota’s battle to come up with the “Insight fighter”. What gives?

In a word, it’s because Toyota has suddenly begun behaving like a follower — not a leader –in the hybrid field that it has owned for the last 12 years.AUTOSHOW/

Toyota’s long and winding F1 road

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For not seeing a win since joining Formula One in 2002, Toyota‘s commitment to the sport is admirable, especially after Honda’s pullout in December left the team the last Japanese standing in the glamour sport.

Toyota have been one of F1′s biggest spenders, with an estimated annual budget of $300 million, previously exceeded only by Honda. But the question for the sport’s perennial underachievers remains just how much cash do they have left to burn?

Honda’s Asimo saves the day

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Talk about a clever PR ploy. Instead of looking miserly with a subdued presence at the Geneva auto show, Honda Motor drew attention to its latest hybrid car by employing another of its technological wonders: the Asimo humanoid robot.

Japan’s No.2 carmaker usually holds full-blown press conferences at international auto shows as is the industry norm, with the chief executive on hand to talk up the company’s achievements and product offerings in front of hundreds of journalists.

Honda’s Insight takes on Prius

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It took almost 10 years, but Honda may finally have a hybrid hit on its hands this time.

The five-seater Insight went on sale this month in Japan ahead of other markets and orders have already climbed to 15,000, triple the number Honda hoped to sell on average in a month here.

Will “Toyoda Restoration” do the trick for Toyota?

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Jan. 20 marked a new beginning for more than just Americans, who swore in Barack Obama as their first non-white president in history. It was a big day for the auto industry too: the dawn of a Fiat-Chrysler partnership, and the appointment of a founding family member to the top job at Toyota Motor Corp for the first time in 14 years.

The Toyota move, first flagged in Japanese media a month ago, has been highly sensationalized in Japan.

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