Posts Tagged ‘Toyota’

Auto sales driven by gas mileage

Thursday, March 21st, 2013

Fit to be drived

Fit to be drived

Last week Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced that Japan would participate in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) talks, a prospect that worries American car makers since the trade agreement could remove any remaining tariffs from Japanese cars sold in the U.S., thus making them cheaper and even more attractive to American consumers. Apparently, carmakers in the U.S. don’t think the agreement will sufficiently remove what they deem barriers to American car sales in Japan. The fact that these barriers, which include, in the words of Reuters, “discriminatory taxes, onerous and costly certification procedures for foreign cars and [an] unwillingness by Japanese auto dealers to sell foreign cars,” have not prevented certain European automakers from doing well in Japan may, in fact, indicate that the problem is American products rather than Japanese protectionism. For instance, the U.S. claims that Japan’s preferential tax treatment for kei (light) cars — smaller automobiles whose engine displacement is 660cc — is a trade barrier, but since America doesn’t make kei cars it’s difficult to understand what it’s a barrier to. Kei cars account for about 30 percent of the Japanese car market, which means people like them, and the main reason they like them is their superior gas mileage.

It’s also the main reason for the popularity of hybrids. On March 3, the land ministry announced its most recent findings for the best gas mileage among cars sold in Japan. Toyota’s hybrid Aqua came out in first place with 35.4 km per liter (in JC08 mode). In second place was the first hybrid car sold in Japan, Toyota’s Prius with 32.6km/l. In third place was Toyota’s high-end hybrid Lexus at 30.4km/l, and fourth was Honda’s hybrid Insight. The highest non-hybrid on the list was the Mitsubishi Mirage, which gets 27.2km/l.

Aqua is also the best-selling model in Japan right now. In February, 24,526 Aquas were sold nationwide, with Prius in second place with 23,473. After that, it was Nissan’s Note with 16,497 followed by Honda’s Fit. However, overall kei cars still outsell regular cars and hybrids in terms of units, probably because in addition to good gas mileage they cost less to purchase. Suzuki’s Alto and Mazda’s Carol tied for first among kei cars in terms of fuel efficiency with 30.2km/l. American carmakers will probably not be happy to learn that the government has required all cars sold in Japan to meet stricter efficiency standards by 2015 in accordance with the revised Energy Conservation Law. As it stands, however, a fair number of domestic models already meet these standards.

Of course, the gas mileage figures offered by the government and the automakers themselves should be used purely for comparative purposes. One would probably have to drive straight on an expressway on perfectly balanced tires going downhill with the wind at one’s back to achieve 35km/l in an Aqua, but last week we decided to try one out for a day trip to Gunma. We picked up the car in Iwatsuki, Saitama Prefecture, at a branch of Toyota Rental & Leasing. The fee was ¥7,000 for the day, including the use of a car navigation system, plus ¥1,000 for insurance.

We drove about 250 km and ended up spending ¥1,372 for gasoline, which worked out to about 9 liters or a little less than 25km/l. That’s much less than the advertised rate, but better than we expected considering that more than a third of the drive was spent on surface roads rather than expressways. But we didn’t use the air conditioner, either. And when we checked several websites dedicated to jissai nenpi, or fuel efficiency under real driving conditions, the average gas mileage for the Aqua is around 21.5km/l.

For comparison’s sake, in January we rented Nissan’s compact (but not kei) March from Nikoniko rentals for ¥4,000 a day with insurance included but no car navigation system. We drove 140 km, none on expressways, and ended up using 8.37 liters, which means gas mileage was 17.9km/l (advertised: 24; real: 20). The advantage of the hybrid is obvious, and will likely become more so when Honda comes out with a new version of its hybrid Fit in August. The company is already boasting that gas mileage will exceed 36, thus topping Aqua. And it will be cheaper, too.

Auto thefts in Japan record first rise in a decade

Friday, March 23rd, 2012

Sitting pretty: Hiace with steering wheel lock

In 2011, 24,928 cars were stolen in Japan, an increase of 1,153 vehicles compared to 2010. This was the first time the number of thefts had gone up since 2001 when 63,275 cars were stolen. Obviously, things have gotten a lot better since then, owing mainly to the standardization of electronic ignition systems, which make it more difficult for thieves to start a car and drive it away.

The General Insurance Association of Japan reports that the model stolen the most — based on statistics from November — is Toyota’s large van, Hiace, which isn’t to say it was the model most targeted by thieves. Hiace does not have electronic ignition as a standard feature, thus making it relatively easier to hot wire. Its popularity among regular ignition cars, though, is well-known by insurers, who say that Hiaces have three things going for them in terms of resellability: They are very durable, they are easy to find parts for, and they are very popular overseas. They’re the Kalashnikovs of the automotive world.

The GIA doesn’t reveal how much its members shelled out in claims for stolen cars. Collision insurance for one’s own car is optional in Japan, and the customer can decide the level of coverage. The same is true of optional auto theft insurance. Since mandatory liability insurance runs car owners around ¥50,000 a year regardless of how old the car is, many people just don’t buy optional auto insurance.

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Disaster area quickly becomes huge automobile market

Friday, April 8th, 2011

One of the most indelible images people will take away from all those horrifying videos of the tsunami of March 11 is automobiles being swept up by the dozens and carried away. What’s important to remember about the Tohoku region, especially the coastal part, is that cars are an indispensable component of everyday life there. In Tohoku, there is one car for every two humans. Because much of the area is cut off from the rest of Honshu by mountains, there aren’t that many train lines. In fact, many of the people who died were in their cars at the time, trying to escape inland after the tsunami alert was broadcast. There are many stories of people driving to the homes of elderly relatives to pick them up and then getting caught in the wall of water.

In Miyagi Prefecture alone, according to a report on TBS, 146,000 vehicles were destroyed. The central government has pledged to do the cleaning up, but cars pose a special problem. Much of the debris is beyond being recognizable, but cars, even ones that no longer function, tend to be intact and thus are considered private property by local governments. They cannot simply be carted away as garbage. The process so far has been for tow trucks to bring the damaged vehicles to large lots where the owners can claim them and then sign a release allowing them to be scrapped.

However, in many cases the owners don’t even know where their cars are, so it is taking a long time to process all the junked cars being brought to the lots. For instance, hundreds of cars were parked at Sendai Airport when the tsunami struck, and afterward their owners came to look for them but couldn’t find them. Local governments have to somehow inform those people where the collected automobiles are being kept, and it’s time-consuming. But that’s not the end of the process. As one mechanic told TBS, before the car is scrapped and placed in a compactor, all the mud has to be removed from the interior. (Removing the gasoline isn’t a problem since it seems that in almost all cases thieves had already siphoned off the fuel when the tow trucks showed up.) Before scrapping, the engines are removed and can sometimes be recycled, but not in this case. Sea water effectively destroys automobile engines.

If anyone benefits from this aspect of the tragedy it is, of course, automakers. Since the eco point system ended last year, manufacturers have been looking for a means to boost sales, and now they have an instant customer base of hundreds of thousands of potential buyers. The central government is going to help with a bill that will provide certain tax exemptions for victims of the earthquake/tsunami. Any victim who purchases a car, either used or new, will not have to pay the automobile purchase tax; nor will they have to pay the regular car tax based on weight, which is due when you register the car and every time you bring it in for mandatory inspections. Already, there is a paucity of available vehicles for sale in the Tohoku region, a situation exacerbated by production fall-offs nationwide due to a shortage of parts that are made in the Tohoku region. However, today Toyota announced that it would resume car production on April 18. There’s no time to lose.

Driving is believing: Don’t trust manufacturers’ mileage claims

Thursday, February 10th, 2011

Though revenues were initially spurred by the government’s eco point system, hybrid cars are definitely the way to go for carmakers right now. Last month, sales of Honda’s Fit hybrid outpaced those for Toyota’s Prius hybrid, which had been Japan’s best-selling car since March 2009. Though consumers seem to be getting on the environmental bandwagon, the real appeal of hybrids is economical: They use less gasoline. Or, at least, that’s what we’ve been led to believe.

Tell the truth: Prius at Tokyo dealership

Actually, it’s difficult to know what to believe, according to the mobile telephone site E-Nenpi. Nenpi is the Japanese word for gasoline mileage, and people who subscribe to the site have helped the company that runs it, Iidosha, compile mileage statistics for almost every Japanese car model. Iidosha is of the opinion that the mileage figures supplied by car manufacturers in their brochures are unreliable, since they are based on tests that have no relation to real driving conditions. The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism has apparently picked up on this skepticism and recently announced it would demand “improved” reporting on mileage testing.

Presently, the standard testing method in Japan is the “10.15 mode,” which utilizes a fixed roller in a government-run facility. Automobiles “drive” on the roller at different speeds and an average mileage figure is calculated from the results. Starting in April, however, the standard testing method will become the “JC08 mode,” which reproduces actual road driving conditions more closely. This method, however, has already been used by most automakers for several years and is usually listed in current brochures alongside the 10.15 mode figure, thus causing unnecessary confusion.

E-Nenpi doesn’t trust either test. The site asks its 500,000 subscribers throughout Japan to do their own mileage calculations based on gasoline bought and kilometers driven. Apparently, about 100,000 subscribers participate through cell phone uploads, and while there are no officials on hand to verify the results of each contributor, 100,000 is a pretty decent sampling and certainly more credible than any figures you’d get from the 10.15 mode tests. According to Toyota, the Prius gets 35.5 km per liter for the 10.15 mode test and 30.4 km per liter for the JC08 mode test. However, E-Nenpi comes up with 19.3 km per liter. That’s 45 percent less than the official 10.15 mode findings, and, apparently, that’s one of the better results. E-nenpi finds even greater discrepancies in the findings for other Japanese models.

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