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Hummer is Going Big in Japan

Posted by: David Welch on December 11, 2007

Here’s something counterintuitive. General Motors is going to take Hummer to Japan. I’m being a bit snide here, but that strikes me as a bit like trying to sell sushi in West Texas. And I’m not talking about fine restaurants near President Bush’s ranch in Crawford. I’m talking about setting up a sushi bar in the “No Country for Old Men” parts of West Texas. Cue up Terry Bradshaw saying, “Sushi? Where I come from, we call that bait.”

American cars have never played well in Japan. Consumers there don’t respect them. Before former Toyota executive James E. Press joined Chrysler, he said in an interview that, “Many American consumers buy Japanese cars. Why would Japanese consumers prefer an American car?” In any case, Hummer general manager Martin Walsh says GM will sell only the mid-sized H3 out of one-stop dealerships that also sell Cadillacs and Saabs. The move to Japan is part of Hummer’s globalization. It’s not in 37 markets and since it has right-hand drive models, it can now sell in Japan, the U.K. and Australia. “There are still people who want to drive something that really stands out from the crowd,” Walsh says.

Let’s just say that this really will stand out in Japan. It’s tough enough navigating even a mid-sized suv through the packed streets of Manhattan let alone the tight and congested streets of Tokyo. Let’s not forget that here in the U.S., where gas is cheap, off-roading is more popular and streets are wider, H3 sales are off 20%. Hummer will be big in Japan all right. I’m wagering it will be too big.

Reader Comments


December 11, 2007 1:13 PM

Too big indeed--other than in sales. But for some years now the BIG Harley Davidson has sold in Japan. The very wealthy buy them, sometimes dress as cops do here, and parade them for adoring crowds. But then what is imported is just the start since a tremendous amount of work is lavished in an effort to remove all signs of their crude design, manufacture, and assembly--all of which is of no account to the semi-civilized barely literate buyers here.

GM is desperate, the signs are everywhere, and offering a dog like the H3 for sale in the Cadillac/Saab store in Japan is just further evidence. Yes, there will be a few sales, and no, the vehicle will not be a nice ride there just as it is not here, but even more so because of the road system, high fuel consumption/cost, parking, etc. but it will turn heads, and that is the point, a rather dull one, no?


December 11, 2007 2:29 PM

What would Godzilla drive?


December 11, 2007 9:31 PM

WOW, I guess no one at GM did any research of the market over in Japan.

Frank A

December 12, 2007 8:32 AM

Noz, do you like anything about America?


December 14, 2007 3:52 AM

They probably did do some market research. It would tell them that Japanese buy only something from the home team, unless they can get something that is a status symbol. GM is giving them a symbol. Even if you think that the US cars are terrible, what about the rest of the world? Why is Japan's car market only about 5% foreign make? Watch 10 minutes of their TV and you would know that it is pounded into them that domestic = good, gaisha = bad....unless it is a status symbol.


December 14, 2007 7:02 AM

i want to see how the Japanese pimp the hummer!


December 14, 2007 3:10 PM

Actually, a recent WSJ article discussed the fact that in Japan there is a growing base of Hummer fanatics. These drivers have banded together to share information on where they can or can't drive their oversized vehicles. They map trips using GPS and share them among their fellow Hummer drivers. Some of them use a small vehicle to drive to the remote location where they store their Hummer. They go on weekend group adventure trips much like Harley's HOG members do in the U.S. Offering the H3 in Japan seeks to build on this base of loyal Hummer 1 drivers. It's been common to ridicule all that is done by U.S. automakers, but perhaps a closer look might find that you shouldn't be laughing so hard, because they are doing a lot of things right.


December 19, 2007 5:29 AM

Only about 1% or less of the japanese population can afford to do what you describe. Toyota does not sell the FJ crusier in Japan because there is not a large enough market for it. If you wish to get a foothold in a market you need to sell a product that appeals to a larger customer base. Astrovans where some what popular GM product in Japan due to the fact that the japanese prefer minivans over SUVs. As far as what the US automakers are doing right their stock prices and loses tell that tale.


January 3, 2008 12:18 PM

I beg to differ on that Hummer deal in Japan.The average Japanese is NOT interested in a gas guzzler.Yea,the rich in Japan MIGHT buy one but I think its a bust.The H3 does not even sell that well here in the states.At least I don't see that many on the streets.When it comes right down to it the H3 is nothing more than a Tahoe frame and the interior is different just as the Caddy Escalade (sp?) is nothing more than a glorified Chevy.


May 15, 2008 9:29 PM

i like hummers


January 18, 2010 10:29 PM

Now it is 2010 and from the start Hummer H2 has been a huge status symbol success here in Japan. Unlike the American Hummers with options, Hummers sold in Japan comes with all options placing the price tags at over 100k.
GM was smart selling the Hummer in Japan because all of you that assumes Japanese hates gas guzzlers or huge cars you are mistaken. This is the fashion capital of asia. Money means nothing to them. All Japanese do is go to work everyday all day, drink with friends on their time off and SAVE all their money. When the next big selling item comes out everyone buys it until the fashion changes. GM had this in mind and made the correct decision to sell here. All of my friends have one and when the HX/Ha starts to sell I will be the first to buy it here in Japan to go with my H2 that I will keep until I can convert it to a hybrid.


January 19, 2010 9:39 PM

As someone who lived in Japan for some time, they will likely sell about as many Hummers as Bugattis with Bugatti having the slight edge in practicality. Venture outside the main boulevards of Tokyo and maneuvering even with a compact can be a chore. I guess the Finance MBAs at GM are making a last stand judging by the detached from reality stupidity of this. Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of product and market would see this as a non starter. By the way, someone who lived near me in Setagaya did have a Hummer. Couldn't get it up his street to his parking space. Had to rent another spot. And that's in a more spacious(?) part of the city of 32 wards and no warden.

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Want the straight scoop on the auto industry? Our man in Detroit David Welch, brings keen observations and provocative perspective on the auto business.

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