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

Car Wars: Hyundai climbs with Toyota’s model

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HYUNDAI/

As a child in the early ’80s, I remember spending a summer in Seoul and taking a trip with relatives to the countryside in a Hyundai Pony, South Korea’s first homegrown car. I spoke no Korean, but learned one word quickly enough: “lemon”.

Hyundai Motor has certainly come a long way since then.

Thirty-four years after introducing the Pony hatchback at the Turin Motor Show, Hyundai is the world’s fourth-largest carmaker, surpassing Ford Motor in the first half of this year. With the rest of the industry reeling from slumping sales, Hyundai’s charge has been especially conspicuous this year as it grabbed market share across the world and even made record profits in the latest quarter.

from Route to Recovery:

Toyota plant workers sheltered from the downturn

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ROUTE-RECOVERY/

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama – When the call came in on July 4, 2008 that Toyota was going halt production for three months, Wes Woods was getting ready to watch a fireworks display with his children.

“I was told that not only were we going to stop production, but that we had to come up with a three-month training plan for all our team members within two days,” said Woods, assistant general manager at the Toyota engine plant here.

from Left field:

Tears as Toyota pull out of Formula One

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Toyota team principal Tadashi Yamashina was in tears as the Japanese company announced it has withdrawn from Formula One with immediate effect.

Japan has deserted motorsport on mass during the economic crisis (Honda and Bridgestone to name just two).

Brain-powered travel

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It may not look like much, but this run of the mill electric wheelchair runs on brainpower – no hands required.

Part of a joint project between Japan’s Riken Brain Science Institute and Toyota, the chair reads subject’s brainwaves and converts them into movement.

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.

Nissan’s hybrid conundrum

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NISSAN/ELECTRIC CARIf Carlos Ghosn were a politician, pundits might be accusing him of flip-flopping right about now.

After spending the last few years playing up the merits of zero-emission electric vehicles and knocking down the hybrid hype, the CEO of Nissan Motor appears to be back-pedalling, ever so slightly, on that stance.

Toyoda’s dilemma: To Race Or Not to Race

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TOYOTA/RECOVERY

Today, reporters got their first chance to hear from Akio Toyoda since he became president of Toyota Motor — the company established by his grandfather 71 years ago.

Just two days on the job and much younger than the five executive vice presidents present with him at the news conference, Mr Toyoda, 53, was predictably cautious in what seemed a thoroughly scripted response to reporters’ questions. At times, he visibly flipped through the pages of what I could only surmise was a prepared Q&A cheat-sheet. Even the soundbites — “we’re setting sail in very stormy waters” — seemed unspontaneous.

Tigers, hungry bears at shareholder meetings

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The annual shareholders meeting season is in full swing in Japan, and some executives have been dodging fastballs from disgruntled investors.

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Quite a few managers are stepping up to the podium with a heavy feeling this year, as irate shareholders offer feelings about dividend cuts and plunging share prices.

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