Raw Japan

Slices of Japanese business, politics and life

Mercedes? No thanks, I’ll take a hybrid

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VOLKSWAGEN-LAW/“I hope the next three months will be better for you than the last three,” Czech ambassador Jaromir Novotny told a gathering of Japanese car importers last month.

The way things are going, he’ll be hoping against hope.

In April, Japan introduced an “eco-car” tax incentive that has left all foreign car brands such as Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz and BMW, neatly outside the fence of eligibility.

It’s the last thing they need in a market that’s already full of quirks that make life difficult for non-Japanese car brands: the existence of a huge and unique 660cc microcar segment, convoluted recycling laws and stringent regulations against what type of materials can be used in fuel tanks, to name just a few.

No one is complaining about incentivising low-emission cars. But what rankles outsiders is that the perks are based on an outdated fuel economy testing method that critics say is a poor reflection of real-life driving.

Toyota’s losses a cautionary tale for Fiat?

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TOYOTA/

Sergio Marchionne, prick up your ears.

Toyota Motor, the once-mighty money machine that grabbed the crown of world’s biggest automaker from General Motors last year, gave a shocking loss forecast today for a staggering $8.6 billion for this year. Culprits are aplenty, but one of them is the company’s mammoth size.

Until the economic crisis slammed the brakes on car sales last year, Toyota couldn’t build them fast enough. To catch up with demand, Toyota put up more factories, from China to the Czech Republic. Reaching annual sales of 10 million vehicles – a feat never achieved by any automaker to date – looked imminent for the 70-year-old carmaker.

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 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.

Niche electric car makers challenge majors

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Former Subaru rally driver Yoshio Takaoka readily admits his business was a polluter and now wants to make up for his “sins” behind the wheel.

Takaoka is promoting the zero-emission “Girasole Elettrica” in Japan, one of a number of electric cars on display this week at a Tokyo expo. 

Toyota’s fortitude tested as jobs on the line

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Shedding jobs is never easy for any company, but it’s more difficult for some than others.TOYOTA/

With global car sales sinking severely and rapidly in the past few months, automakers from Nissan to Volvo and Peugeot are reducing full-time staff in an urgent effort to slash costs. Contract workers — the first to go when business turns bleak — are gone or on their way out at most car manufacturers around the globe.
 
But when Toyota Motor so much as blinks at the question of whether they would let permanent staff go, the reaction is exaggerated. And it’s not just because Toyota is the world’s biggest automaker and was, until last year, the most profitable and envied in the business. Toyota is, quite simply, obsessed with job security.
 
In my many conversations with Toyota officials and executives over the years, 1950 has come up time and again as a major turning point in the company’s history. That year, a plunge in car sales and the risk of bankruptcy forced Toyota to sack thousands of workers after management and union workers — on strike
against the proposed steps — failed to reach a compromise.

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.

What can the Bank of Japan do?

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Japanese interest rates have already dropped to just 0.1 percent, leaving the Bank of Japan with few traditional weapons to fight its corner of the global financial crisis as it meets on Wednesday and Thursday this week to review monetary policy.

It could, of course, return to zero interest rates, but Japanese policymakers are not convinced that this worked last time they tried it and, with rates already so low, how much difference would moving to zero make?

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