Why American Cars Are Not Popular In Japan


Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Mazda, Daihatsu, Suzuki, Isuzu… etc 

When we talk about Japanese car brands, there are so many automotive companies and many of them are well-known even outside of Japan.


In fact, Japanese car brands account for 40% of sale in the American automotive industry. 

On the other hand, only 0.3% of cars sold in Japan are from the U.S.


Source: Bloomberg


Given that, the Trump administration has been pressuring Japan to buy more American cars.

The President argues American cars don’t sell well in Japan because of the tariffs imposed by Japanese government against US products.


But from neutral point of view, this is entirely incorrect.  

There are many factual reasons other than that why Japanese people choose Japanese cars over Americans, and it’s all about the consumer culture.



Table of Contents

Japanese Prefer Small Cars


Japanese cars are more popular in Japan simply because American cars are too big on the narrow roads. 

About 40% of the cars sold in Japan are compact cars, called kei.


The public space is incredibly tight and crowded in Japan, so Japanese people prefer smaller and fuel efficient vehicles than pickup trucks that you often see in the U.S.

They are much easier to maneuver on narrow roads or fit into small parking lots. 



Right-hand Drive  


In Japan, vehicles drive on the left side of the roads, and they are right-hand drive.

That means American cars are incredibly inconvenient to drive in Japan since imported vehicles are all left-hand drive.


Drive-through at fast food restaurants, toll gates, these places are all for right-hand cars, and it’s obviously inconvenient when you drive vehicles with left-hand drive.


Some people prefer left-hand drive, but it’s extremely rare.



Warranty & Maintenance   


Japanese people tend to care more about the cost after buying a car.

So Japanese automotive companies give great customer service with extended warranty and maintenance after purchase.


But when you buy a car from an American company in Japan, they don’t often come with warranty at all, and it’s difficult to find anyone who can maintain imported cars.

So once there is an issue with their car, the owners have to fix it.


As a result, the vast majority of Japanese people, except car enthusiasts, buy domestic vehicles.



Negative Reputations 


If you tell a typical Japanese person that you are going to buy an American car, they might say “it’s gonna cost a lot!” 

Yes, there are certainly outdated negative reputations about American cars in Japan.


But it’s true that American cars are often refereed as lower quality, less customer service, and poor efficiency.



Transportation Systems In Japan


It’s not about cars, but more about the environmental factor.

Because of its large landmass, having cars is fatal for Americans.


It’s normal that each one of family members owns a car, and even high school kids need a car to go to school.

As for long distance travel, they simply take airplanes instead of trains.


But in Japan, it’s a little bit of a different story.

The public transportation is more advanced and convenient.


One-car family is common in Japan or even some people don’t have a car at all since it’s not really necessary to own a car if you live in a big city like Tokyo.

So they take the public transportation all the time instead of driving a car. 


And of course, Japan has the bullet train, which makes a long distance travel incredibly fast and easy.


Highways In Japan


While you can drive on highways in the U.S. for free, drivers have to pay tolls in Japan and it’s extremely expensive.

Especially in Tokyo, driving few kilometers on the highways easily goes up to more than $10.


So especially young people don’t have interest in fancy cars, but concerned more about efficiency and the cost.

In terms of these factors, Japanese cars are more for young people than American vehicles.



Even though President Donald Trump have been criticizing Japan’s “protectionism” over automotive industry, his argument is not to the point at all. 

In fact, German car brands are still sold well in Japan. 


But the problem is just the difference in consumer behavior and environmental factor, and the fact that American automotive companies never try to adapt those Japanese consumer culture.

If they really want to sell their cars in Japan, then maybe they should export “right-hand drive” vehicles as Japanese companies sell left-hand drive cars to America by adapting the American society.