Japan's shrinking auto market

Japan’s automakers might be ramping up sales and market share in the U.S. quicker than you can say Prius Hybrid, but things aren’t quite so rosy back home. Despite Japan’s economic recovery sending the Nikkei stock market index to five year highs, confidence has yet to reach car buyers. In 2005, auto sales in Japan fell 0.9%, while sales at Toyota (not including the recently introduced Lexus brand) dipped 3.2%. Honda did almost as badly registering a 2.9% fall. While Nissan managed a relatively healthy 2.2% increase, the prognosis for 2006 isn’t looking much better. The Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association reckon sales in Japan will stay more or less flat in 2006, although Toyota is hoping that new models like the recently launched bB (the eventual replacement for the Scion xB in the U.S.) pictured above will provide a welcome boost.

All of which is a big contrast to the U.S. market where figures released this week showed Japanese automakers, led by Toyota, achieved their best ever market share in 2005. Before long, Toyota will sell more cars in the US than it does in Japan. Last month, Toyota CEO Katsuaki Watanabe outlined plans to increase sales in the U.S. by 10% to 2.46 million in 2006 aided by a raft of new releases including the Lexus GS hybrid sedan, the Yaris compact, and at yearend Tundra trucks from the new San Antonio plant. That’s just a shade less than the 2.47 million vehicles Toyota expects to sell in Japan through 2006.

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