Posts Tagged ‘subaru’

Car makers try to stave off the inevitable

Thursday, September 9th, 2010

Don't miss Audi!

Don’t miss Audi!

Though the tax cut (genzei) for automobile acquisition and weight will continue to be in effect for so-called “eco cars” until at least the spring of 2012, on Sept. 30 the eco car rebate (hojokin) officially ends after having been extended once. The government had allocated more than ¥580 billion for the rebate program, ostensibly to promote the sale of fuel-efficient vehicles, though everybody understands it had more to do with helping car manufacturers and stimulating the economy.

And it worked. More than 4.5 million vehicles were sold under the rebate program. Sales were particularly good during the last month as the program wound down. Applications for rebates from new car buyers on Sept. 6 accounted for ¥11.6 billion in subsidies, the highest one-day amount since the program started more than a year ago. The reason is that people knew the program was about to end and wanted to get in on the deal before it did. The rebate amounts for applications on Sept. 7 could have been even higher except that there was only ¥10.2 billion left in the government rebate fund.

What this means is that some new car buyers, expecting to get in on the rebate, missed it. During the summer the government told car makers and dealerships to notify potential buyers that once the rebate money ran out the program would end, regardless of the original Sept. 30 cutoff date. Also, since the procedure for receiving the rebates requires paperwork, buyers had to take this lead time into consideration.

Consequently, car makers are now offering their own discounts to people who tried to get in on the rebate but failed. Fuji Juko, which makes Subaru cars, is offering up to ¥100,000 off any of its designated eco cars if the sales contract is signed between Sept. 6 and Sept. 23. Nissan is offering the same discount amount to purchasers of eight models as long as the sale is finalized within the month of September. Toyota hasn’t offered any discount but says it may offer rebates of its own to dealerships in October, depending on sales, which are expected to drop steeply now that the rebate program has finished. Studies of similar programs carried out in Germany and Korea found that sales dropped by 20 percent once government subsidies dried up.

What one needs to understand is that Japanese taxpayers were basically subsidizing Japanese auto makers’ recovery from the recession. But they were (and still are, with the tax cut) subsidizing foreign auto makers, too, and Audi, for one, isn’t ready to let go. Audi dealerships are offering a “bold bargain” for several of its fuel efficient models. If a buyer signs a contract before the end of Sept. and misses out on the government rebate, Audi will knock ¥100,000 off the price. This is on top of an even larger discount for the current “Eco Support” campaign, which ends Sept. 30, offering ¥200,000 off the price of four of its models. It sounds like a lot, but Audi can afford it thanks to the high yen.

Crash test dummies agree: Legacy is the one!

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

Can I take this baby out for a test crash?

Can I take this baby out for a test crash?

The National Agency for Automotive Safety and Victim’s Aid recently released the results of its 2009-2010 New Car Assessment Program, which is designed to test the safety of new automobiles in six different crash situations. The winner of the Grand Prix was Subaru’s Legacy touring wagon (list price ¥3.2 million), which, according to the results, was the only model out of the 17 tested this time that received high marks across the board, including the so-detailed-it’s-scary “pedestrian head protection performance test.”

Good news for Subaru, though when we visited a showroom the salesman said his dealership had yet to take PR advantage of the news. Considering the controversy over the recent Toyota recalls in the U.S., one might think any salesman would make a big deal out of such a positive safety assessment. After all, when Consumer Union in the U.S. releases test results for new cars in its Consumer Reports magazine, positive ratings can do wonders for a model’s sales.

But Consumer Reports tests everything, not just body integrity in a collision. The purpose of the NCAP is to promote safety-related research and development among auto makers, but all it really does is test these cars in crash situations. As it stands, all the cars seem to do quite well: The difference between the Legacy and the other cars tested is a matter of very small degree. In fact, NASVA was just investigated by the Government Revitalization Unit, which is trying to cut bureaucratic waste. Apparently, there are two government organizations testing cars in crashes, the NASVA and the National Traffic Safety and Environment Laboratory. The differences in the two bodies’ test methods appear to be very slight, so the investigating unit wanted to know why Japan needed two. Apparently, the “power of impacts” tested are different. In any case, NTSEL may receive less money in the next budget.

Of course, what would really help potential car buyers is data about individual models that have been involved in accidents in the past, but that information is closely guarded, even by the police , who never reveal makes and models of cars involved in accidents, though they surely have that information on record. The NCAP obviously has a function, but the very fact that they award a Grand Prix suggests they’re less interested in safety than in devising tests. After all, they have never reported a car as being not safe. So the Subaru salesman’s blasé attitude about the Legacy’s prize is understandable. For most consumers, a safety award from the government probably isn’t going to be as much of a factor in selecting a car as price, design and features are.


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