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Why Japan May Be the Next Car Superpower

Posted on January 30, 2018 – Automobile Industry News

Vehicles are, without a doubt, one of the areas that are experiencing most technological changes. The pressure to move away from fossil fuels has given birth to hybrid and all-electric cars as well as put the emphasis on fuel efficiency; the Internet of Things has prompted demand for connected cars while driverless vehicles are benefiting from serious R&D and are backed by major players like Google.

The world's third-largest manufacturer of cars behind China and the US, Japan is also renowned for excellence and innovation in all things electronic and is therefore in an ideal position to strengthen its role globally.

Born after the Second World War, the Japanese car industry was characterised by functionality, which could plainly be seen in the kei cars, compact, affordable vehicles that flourished at the time. Car manufacturers carried that legacy for several decades, producing cars that sorely missed aesthetic flair, despite slowly opening up to Western designs in the 1960s and early 1970s.

Japanese car makers were reluctant to abandon what they were good at, small, dependable vehicles that were also fuel efficient, especially given their commercial success, but they gradually saw that they could lead the world by integrating their technological knowledge to larger, more attractive designs.

The most successful example of this strategy is the Toyota Corolla. Launched in 1966, the Corolla had become the bestselling car worldwide by 1974 and is still a reliable seller. It is even more popular than the VW Beetle! To date, the combined sales of the car’s different generations total over 44 millions. Definitely not bad.

Honda's Civic is also noteworthy. In the early 70s, after experiencing disappointing results with its creations, the car manufacturer considered closing shop. However, history gave them a helping hand: in 1973, the crisis in crude oil production drove people to look for fuel-efficient cars. The Civic, with its frugal fuel consumption, became very popular. In 1975, Honda launched a version using a proprietary innovation, the Compound Vortex Controlled Combustion (CVCC) which reduced CO2 emissions. Thanks to it, the Civic was able to meet the new emission standards without the need for an expensive catalytic converter, which made it economical and gave it a competitive advantage over other cars.

Since then, Japanese designers have produced more exciting models. Mazda's Miata, for example, also known as the MX-5, which was launched in 1989, was an homage to the rear-wheel-drive British sports cars of the 1960s.

Mazda’s engineers must be commanded for their attention to detail. They analysed everything that had made those cars special, from how they handled, how the gear shift responded and even what the exhaust sounded like. The result was a car that became the best-selling two-seat sports convertible of all time.

Another success story for Honda is the NSX, a car inspired by Formula One that made it into the main stream and established Honda as a supercar brand that could rival Ferrari and Lamborghini. The NSX had the fortune to have a very special Godfather, Ayrton Senna, whose input was instrumental in developing a reliable car. At a time when its Italian counterparts were fickle and fragile, it definitely made it stand out.

In fact, the NSX worked so well that it made the supercar establishment question their own technology and seriously work on emulating Honda. So nowadays owners of Lamborghinis or Ferraris can thank Honda for how smoothly their cars run!

The NSX was the first of a range of Japanese supercars that brought the performance of sports car without the price tag. Introduced in 2007, Nissan’s GT-R has unusual lines, a mixture of angles and aerodynamics curves and impressive technological features. At NZ$135,000, it brings all the capabilities and comfort a car twice this price would offer.

Although Japan started out by imitating the West, they have now become pioneers and the country to look up to. An area in which it particularly shines is environmental car design thanks to the country’s expertise in electronics.

This has given birth to a car like the FCX Clarity by Honda in 2008, which uses hydrogen technology to power the car, meaning it is totally pollution free as all it emits is water. It is not yet for sale though, and Honda only leased the cars so that they could have them back and analyse data collected from everyday use. According to Honda, a new generation of FCX Clarity will be made available at a sensible price by the end of the decade.

We couldn’t talk about Japan being a car superpower without mentioning the car that is the industry’s most famous success story: the Toyota Prius.

Granted, the car isn’t the most exciting ride you’ll ever have, but it brought the concept of a hybrid car to the masses. No fussing with having to find charging points or plugging it into a socket at home, no worrying about running out of charge. The car manages the switch from petrol engine to electric power seamlessly and it is affordable and as reliable as you would expect from Toyota.

In the recent Consumer Electronic Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Japanese car makers have presented concept vehicles showing the shape of things to come and confirming that the country is still a force to reckon with. 

The Nissan Leaf, for example, has abandoned the hybrid engine altogether and dared to be an all-eclectric car with no CO2 emissions at all. Although it isn’t -yet- as popular as the Prius, it is nevertheless already the bestselling pure electric car.

Toyota distinguished itself with its ‘mobility ecosystem and e-palette concept vehicle’, autonomous vehicles that can be customised inside and outside.

If you are looking into shipping your car, motorhome or caravan abroad, talk to us. We have been in the business for over 20 years and we can assist you with transporting your vehicle wherever you are at a reasonable cost, and more importantly, in a stress free manner. Call us on +64 9 309 11 63 or request a free quote.

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