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Fewer cars on Japan's roads

Posted by: Ian Rowley on May 16, 2008

Given that Japan’s car market has been shrinking for years, reaching a 25-year low in 2007 million, execs at Japan’s car makers must be reasonably pleased that sales in 2008 have risen in three out of the first four months of the year. In April, for instance, sales excluding Japan’s 660cc mini-cars, rose 6.9% to 232,993 vehicles.

Still, a report in today’s Nikkei, a business paper, suggests even the mildest celebrations would be premature. For the first time since data was collected in 1963, the total number of vehicles on Japan’s roads has fallen over a three-month period. Between December and February, the total number of buses, cars and motorbikes on the country’s roads fell 0.2% to 79.43 million. The Nikkei reports that comparable data has been available only since 1963, but this is likely the first three-month drop since World War II in any developed car market. That’s bad news not just for carmakers, but also insurers, gas stations, and car repair shops. It also puts the government in a bind. Its plans to spend $567 billion on road building are based on the assumption that traffic volume will peak in 2010, the paper reports.

What gives? One explanation is almost certainly Japan’s falling population. Another is the simple fact that young people, less well off than their parents’ generation, have less cash to spend on cars. In central Tokyo, a parking space—a necessity given you’re not allowed to park on the road—costs upwards of $400 a month (I’m thinking of renting mine out!). It could even be that more Japanese are switching to the next best thing: electric-motor-assisted bicycles. While auto sales have plunged, the Japan Bicycle Promotion Institute reckons 282,600 electro-bicycles, which aren’t included in the numbers, were sold last year. That’s up 40% from five years ago. Cash-conscious mothers, regularly seen around town with at least one child in tow, are the biggest customers.

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Reader Comments


May 16, 2008 11:59 AM

A falling people population makes some sense, but then there are some black forces in Japan that hasten a vehicles rush to the crusher. Or off to Russia perhaps as 'scrap'. Then quickly reawakened and put on their roads. THE TAX ON AGING.

Anyone who has visited Japan and paid attention will say that the older cars and trucks there must be the world's cleanest and best running. Heaven help the owner of one with a scratch or dent.

With this cost of operation a known quantity, depreciation is assured and steep. I found the neatly stacked 'dead' cars appalling while realizing that each was also a bit of charcoal feeding the fires of industry. MITI is very much behind this travesty. Recall that MITI tried to prohibit the growth of HONDA in its early days?

And then there is the superb public transport system, the too-often parking lot roadways, and the lack of spots to lay the car down for the night. Not all that many four-car garages there, or three, or two, let alone single car sheds.


May 19, 2008 01:16 AM

This is such a non-story. BW paid Rowley for this piece of crap. He makes David Kiley look like a genious. Rowley, please shut-up!


May 29, 2008 05:06 AM



June 14, 2008 10:56 AM

I can just see that "Kuruma Banare" is going to become NHKs most popular cultural phrase of 2008. Hooray for Japan. Pity the poor citizens of China and India who will receive the full force (and stink and noise) of auto industry investment now that everyone knows that they (cars) just don't sell here like they used to - nor the West probably for that matter.


October 28, 2009 01:07 PM


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Want the straight scoop on the auto industry? Detroit bureau chief David Welch , Dexter Roberts and Ian Rowley bring daily scoop, keen observations and provocative perspective on the auto business from around the globe. Read their take on such weighty issues as Detroit’s attempt at a comeback, Toyota’s quest for dominance and the search for an efficient car.

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