TOKYO – The Japanese import car-market rebounded to 343,673 units in 2016 after two straight years of falling sales, the Japan Automobile Importers Assn. says.
Import sales, which accounted for an estimated 7% of new-vehicle demand last year, grew 6.5% from 2015 levels. Japan’s peak year for imports was 2013, with 346,133 units.
Association Chairman Peter Kronschnabl attributes imports’ recovery to foreign automakers putting greater emphasis on newer-technology vehicles including plug-in hybrids and clean diesels, along with safety features such as adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking and lane-change assist.
But Kronschnabl, who also is president of BMW Group Japan, is concerned the government is postponing an increase in the consumption tax until October 2019. That means a delay in revoking the country’s vehicle-acquisition tax, a longtime reform sought by foreign automakers.
In its 2016 report announced Jan. 11, the association says Mercedes-Benz was Japan’s No.1 import brand for the second straight year on sales of 67,386 units, up 3.4% from prior-year, followed by BMW at 50,571, up 9.4%, and Volkswagen at 47,234, down 13.8%.
Volkswagen was the leading import brand in 2014 but saw sales slump after it was revealed the following year the automaker cheated on diesel-emissions tests.
Rounding out last year’s 10 best-sellers were Audi (28,502, down 3.1% from 2015), Mini (24,548, up 16.4%), Nissan (18,225, down 14.3%), Toyota (15,877, up 7.4%), Volvo (14,914, up 8.2%), Jeep (9,392, up 31.7%) and Suzuki (9,026, up 205.7%). Figures for Nissan, Toyota and Suzuki represent shipments from the three Japanese companies’ overseas operations.
Among U.S. automakers, FCA’s Jeep repeated as brand leader with 9,392 deliveries; Ford sold only 2,883 units and ranked 19th among all importers; and General Motors (Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC) sold 1,364.
By model, the top-selling import in 2016 was BMW’s Mini with 24,548 units. Volkswagen’s Golf, the No.1 seller in 2015, slipped to second with 22,802 deliveries, followed by the Mercedes-Benz C-Class (17,760); BMW 3-Series (11,947) and Volkswagen Polo (10,903).
The automakers’ association reports total sales of 4,970,260 units in 2016, down from 5,046,510 in 2015. Most of the decline reflected a shortfall in the 0.660L minicar segment, which fell from 1,511,404 units to 1,344,968.
By brand, Toyota held the largest share at 30.1% on sales of 1,515,791 units, followed by Honda (701,292), Suzuki (622,397) and Nissan (524,871).
The association has not issued a 2017 forecast but says it expects growth.