Down 9 percent in November, Japan’s new car market is alive and well

Japannovember - Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt

Japan’s new car market held its own in November with registrations down only 9 percent compared with the same month in the previous year. Why “only 9 percent?” The month compares with an outlandishly strong November 2013, when overall sales were up 16.1 percent as sales were pulled forward in the run-up to next year’s sales tax increase. Year-to-date, the Japanese market is up 3.6 percent. Analysts predicted a double-digit contraction after April 2014, when the higher sales tax went into effect. It did not happen.

If someone tells you that Japanese car sales imploded by a shocking 13.5 percent in November, stop reading their news. That data point is for regular vehicles only, and it does not count separately reported minivehicles. Sales of underpowered kei cars are getting stronger and stronger by the month in Japan. Down only 2.2 percent in November year-on-year, kei cars have reached a record market share of 42.5 percent in November. Japan is one of the world’s most mature car markets, half of its population is concentrated in three major metropolitan areas, public transport is advanced, the population is aging. If you want a laboratory for future care trends, look to Japan.

Among Japan’s big three, Honda hasn’t seen any slow-down at all. Its overall YTD sales are up 15.4 percent, its regular vehicle sales are up a whopping 31.7 percent. Nissan, down 0.2% YTD, and Toyota, down 0.7% YTD, are treading water. Biggest YTD loser: Mitsubishi, down 9.1 percent. Would be down more if not propped up by new range of keis, co-produced with Nissan.

A full table of November and YTD new car sales in Japan is here. Other months are here, those of the previous year are here.