Japan is a motor powerhouse, with the automotive industry contributing a whopping 14% of Japan’s GDP. With all the innovation and Japanese cars as a symbol of the people’s work ethos and efficiency, it is little wonder that the Japanese love their cars.
We’re about to explore in fewer than 5 minutes the distinct world of Japanese cars. We’ll be uncovering the most-loved car brands, models, and trends that define the Japanese automotive experience.
Japanese Vehicle Preferences as Recorded by Sales Volume
Even though Japan saw a record low in new car sales—4.2 million—a large portion of this decline was attributable to the sale of cars built in Japan. This represented a decrease of roughly 3.3% from the year prior. But this decline isn’t just about the numbers; it also represents shifting consumer preferences and tastes in Japan.
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With the overall sales figures dipping, it could be noted that individual choices and preferences are starting to impact a greater level of domestic vehicle sales. A notable trend is the move towards more eco-conscious choices. With electric cars and hybrids such as Teslas becoming increasingly popular worldwide, Japan’s local car market is starting to see a shift.
Now, let’s dive into the top-selling car brands domestically in Japan.
Top Selling Car Brands
With each car brand or manufacturer boasting various models, it’s important to see which brands are the top sellers in Japan’s domestic market.
No surprises here; Toyota’s supremacy on home turf is unwavering, and it’s a well-deserved position. While Toyota’s were initially criticized as vehicles to simply take one from point A to B, their legacy of reliability and innovation continues to resonate with Japanese consumers.
Perhaps not as beloved as Toyota but still a homegrown Japanese brand, Suzuki is the unlikely entrant at position #2 of most beloved Japanese car brands. Suzuki is especially renowned in the area of producing mini cars and commercial vehicles. It should be noted that domestic sales of mini vehicles (also called Kei cars) hit 1.64 million in 2022, which is no small feat, considering Suzuki dominates a huge chunk of this market.
While you might not see many Suzuki passenger cars in the bustling streets of Tokyo or Yokohama, they have found a special place in the Japanese market, particularly as compact and efficient alternatives.
Tesla’s Unconventional Journey in Japan
It seemed unlikely that Tesla would go into the Japanese market considering the availability of hybrid and EV options in the domestic market already. Furthermore, Japanese people still seem to favor traditional fossil-fuel alternatives to electric and hybrid models. EVs only account for about 1% of total vehicle sales in Japan. While not the kind of performance shown by other mentions on this list, Tesla is still seeing steady growth since its entry into the Japanese market in 2020.
This low performance doesn’t come as any surprise here, seeing as the Japanese naturally prefer homegrown alternatives to imports. Still, it’s interesting to see what Tesla’s journey in Japan will be like seeing as its tech is miles ahead of local Japanese EV technology, and Teslas are just amazing cars anyway.
Mercedes-Benz is the top non-Japanese car contender and you’ll see Mercedes vehicles everywhere around Japan. In 2021, Mercedes Benz outperformed the homegrown luxury brand, Lexus, in local vehicle sales, showcasing the Japanese people’s affinity for these German machines. The other top foreign bestsellers were BMW and Volkswagen, which confirms that the Japanese do, in fact, love foreign car brands that are seen more as status symbols.
Top-Selling Car Models in Japan
No surprise that Toyota vehicles are the bestselling models in Japan. If you’re going to pay for an essay on the automotive industry in Japan including the top-selling vehicle makes by numbers, this article is a great place to start your research.
You’ll get a little smattering of Honda and Nissan models in the mix.
1. Honda N-Box
For six consecutive years, the Honda N-Box has held the title of Japan’s favorite mini car. Its tall wagon-style is preferred for its compact build, and the car is prized for its efficiency and small stature. They are a perfect fit for Japan’s crowded streets. Beating even the Yaris, the N-Box saw sales of 202,197 in 2022, a growth of 7% from the previous year when it occupied second position.
2. Toyota Yaris
Despite weaker sales in 2021 and 2022, the Toyota Yaris remains the top-selling SUV car brand in Japan, signaling the Japanese people’s preference for small, compact vehicles. Toyota Yaris is a versatile vehicle available in various body styles. It’s available as a hatchback or a compact crossover SUV.
The Yaris had sales of 168,557 in 2022, compared to 212,927 in 2021, a decline of about 20%. The Toyota Yaris was previously sold as the Toyota Vitz in Japan and retains its top spot for three years running.
3. Toyota Corolla
The Japanese are a conservative people, and this is reflected in the consistently strong performance of Toyota Corolla vehicles in Japan. The Toyota Corolla has been in production since 1966 and had a historic moment in 1997 when it outsold Volkswagen’s iconic Beetle models. Despite growing 19% in sales from 2021, the Corolla still came a distant second to the Yaris, selling 131,548 units in 2022.
4. Nissan’s Note
Nissan, another premier homegrown car brand witnessed a 22% increase in sales in 2022 to become the most popular non-Toyota car brand in Japan. The improvements in the exterior and interior of the Nissan Note resulted in its continued popularity among Japanese consumers.
5. Toyota Roomy
Toyota Roomy is a compact minivan that won the hearts of Japanese consumers, achieving a substantial 55 percent increase in sales. The five-seater vehicle boasts a 1,000 cc engine and delivers an impressive 18.4 kilometers per liter of gasoline. The Toyota Roomy comes in at #5 in 2022 sales.
Japan while seemingly the most advanced auto manufacturing economy in the world is still in love with traditional car choices. The selection here is mostly comprised of small compact SUVs and Kei cars as the preferred alternative. Occasionally, the Japanese will buy foreign luxury brands such as Mercedes Benz and Volkswagen, although these represent niche choices.
If you’re thinking about importing a vehicle from Japan, options such as the Toyota Yaris, Corolla, and Roomy always represent choices that can’t go wrong. Not only are they affordable to buy, but also offer savings in terms of longer-term maintenance.