The Japanese automotive market may be notorious for its relentless unfriendliness to automobiles from non-domestic brands. General Motors knows this all too well, as The General sold a mere 2,660 vehicles (between Cadillac and Chevrolet) in 2011 while cross-town rival Ford managed to move 3,469 vehicles during the same time. Meanwhile, Volkswagen — which has made it a goal to become the world’s biggest volume automaker by 2018 — sold 50,635 vehicles in The Land of the Rising Sun, and is strategizing to sell 110,000 units in the country in a matter of a few years. If the objective becomes a reality, the German automaker will be the first non-Japanese auto brand to crack the 100,000-unit per year mark in the country. The situation is glum for GM, and illustrates just how much the automaker needs to step up its efforts in Japan… unless it intends to allow VW to eat its lunch in all markets outside of North America.
For its part, Volkswagen is entering new segments by introducing new products in the Japanese market — including the CC four-door coupe and Up! city car. VW also plans to bring its diesel offerings to the country and to expand its dealer network from 246 today to 337 by 2018. By comparison, GM has 33 sales outlets in Japan — a number that isn’t expected to change much in the near future, according to a GM Japan PR representative. VW’s new model introductions will bring VW the automaker’s individual nameplate count in Japan to ten (with nearly 15 body style variants of each), not including 12 nameplates (18 body style variants) offered by Audi. Meanwhile, Chevrolet and Cadillac only offer four nameplates each.
Current Chevrolet Offerings In Japan
Current Volkswagen Offerings in Japan
- Golf hatchback and variants, including cabrio, wagon, and Touran MPV
- Passat sedan and variants, including wagon and AllTrack
Current Cadillac Offerings In Japan
- CTS range
Current Audi Offerings In Japan
- A1 range (3/5 door)
- A4 sedan & wagon/S4 sedan & wagon/A4 AllRoad Quattro
- A5, A5 Cabrio, A5 Sportback/S5, S5 Cabrio, S5 Sportback/RS5
- A6 sedan & wagon/S6 sedan & wagon
- TT coupe & roadster/TTS coupe, TT RS coupe
- R8 & R8 Spyder
In effect, Volkswagen (along with Audi) are embarking on an aggressive expansion strategy in Japan and are offering 24 nameplates (and nearly 50 model variants), while General Motors is offering a measly eight nameplates and 12 body variants between Chevy and Caddy.
And while it has been difficult for non-Japanese manufacturers to break into the Japanese automotive market, barriers are receding. Recently, the Japanese government opened the latest round of eco-related subsidies to foreign brands; a few European brands qualified, but no American brands did. The move helped increase sales of non-domestic-branded passenger vehicles 22 percent to 150,711 units through August of 2012.
As it stands, GM just doesn’t seem to be aggressive enough when it comes to competing with its (arguably) biggest rival in Japan. Perhaps it has its hands full with growing its South American operations, fixing loss-making European business, and implementing an aggressive Chevy model launch for 2013. But that should still not detract from growing its presence in other global markets, like Japan. But hey, at least GM is big with bikes there…