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Japan Full Year 2014: Kei cars surge, Daihatsu Tanto>Toyota Aqua

Daihatsu Tanto Japan 2014. Picture courtesy of response.jpThe Daihatsu Tanto is the best-selling vehicle in Japan in 2014.

* See the Top 60 brands, Top 30 models, Top 40 Kei cars and Top 20 imports by clicking on the title *

At the start of 2014, JAMA’s forecast for the Japanese new car market was a 10% retraction on 2013 due to a tax increase to come into effect on April 1. Instead, sales were brought forward over the first quarter of the year and we have a market up 3.5% to 5.562.887 deliveries in the full year. This growth is mainly due to the so-called “Kei shift”. While regular cars are up just 0.8% to 3.290.098 units, Kei car sales were up a monstrous 8% this year to reach an all-time high of 2.272.789 units and a record 40.9% market share in Japan. A unique category of cars, Kei vehicles are powered by a 660cc engine or less and cannot exceed 3.4m length, 1.48m width and 2m height, giving them a relatively cumbersome appearance. They benefit from lower tax rates and weren’t affected by the recent tax increase. This may change however in 2015 Kei car taxes are scheduled to align with larger vehicles. The coming of age of Kei cars is the main event of 2014 in Japan: the sales volume reached by these tiny vehicles place them almost at the same level as some of the largest European markets like Russia (2.5 million) and the UK (2.476 million), and well above France (1.795 million). In fact, for the first time since 2008 a Kei car is the most popular vehicle in the country: the Daihatsu Tanto. More on this below.

Honda Vezel Japan May 2014. Picture courtesy of carsensor.netThe Vezel helped push Honda’s regular car sales up 25% in 2014.


As far as regular cars are concerned, Toyota remains by far the most popular manufacturer in the country with just under 45% share while Honda (+25%) brilliantly overtakes Nissan (-13%) to climb into 2nd place thanks to the success of the Fit and Vezel. Mazda, Subaru and Suzuki hold onto their ranking while Isuzu (+18%) passes Volkswagen, still the best-selling foreign manufacturer in the country with 67,438 deliveries and 2% share. Mercedes is catching up fast however at +13% to 60,839 units while BMW (-1%) passes Lexus (-5%) and Audi (+10%) continues to progress. Notice also Jeep up 36%, Renault up 24%, Porsche up 11% and Maserati up 187%.

Jeep Grand Cherokee Japan 2014. Picture courtesy of response.jpJeep sales are up 36% year-on-year in Japan in 2014.

Adding Kei cars completely changes the local brands picture, confirming how impactful this format has become in Japan: Toyota stays #1 but sees its share thaw significantly to 27.1% vs. 28.6% in 2013, Honda manages to hold onto the #2 spot at 15.3% but Suzuki shoots up to #3 and 14.2% ahead of Daihatsu at 12.7% and Nissan at 12%. Mazda now only holds 4% of the overall Japanese market in 6th place with Subaru at 3%, Mitsubishi at 2.2% and Isuzu at 1.3%. Volkswagen is the only foreigner in the Top 10.

Toyota Aqua Japan 2014The Toyota Aqua is #1 regular car for the 2nd straight year in Japan.

Regular models

Despite sales down 11% on 2013, the Toyota Aqua resists the assault of the new generation Honda Fit (+12%) to sign off 2014 with a 2nd consecutive pole position finish at 233,209 deliveries vs. 202,838 for the Fit. The fight was intense, with the Fit holding the year-to-date top spot in January, April and May. In urgent need of a refresh, the Toyota Prius is down 28% to #3, its lowest annual ranking at home since 2008 when it was #5. The Toyota Corolla is boosted up 12% by new hybrid versions, gaining one spot on 2013 to #4 and 114,331 sales, its best annual tally since 2008.

Toyota Noah Japan March 2014. Picture courtesy of response.jpThe Toyota Noah is up to a best-ever #5.

Toyota’s boxy MPV range had a stunning year thanks to their refresh: the Noah is up 160% and 11 spots to a best-ever 5th place and 109,174 units – peaking at #3 in April – while the Voxy is up 12 ranks and 115% to #10 and 69,605 sales. Add to this 11,028 additional units of the third declination of the concept, the Esquire – up to #7 in December, and you have a very rosy picture indeed, the triplets adding up to a gargantuan 189,807 sales – more than the Prius.

Toyota Harrier Japan October 2014The Toyota Harrier peaked at a record 7th place in November.

The success story of the year is without contest the Honda Vezel (aka H-RV), jumping directly into 7th place for its first full year in market and just missing out on a 6-digit sales figure at 96,029 units. It peaked at #4 in June. Now replacing the Vanguard and a Toyota variant of the Lexus RX no more, the Toyota Harrier kept breaking nameplate sales records month after month this year, finishing at a splendid 11th place with 64,920 sales and peaking at #7 in November. Notice also the Nissan X-Trail up 91% to #13, the Mazda Axela up 148% to a best-ever #19 and the Honda Odyssey up 121% to #24. The Subaru Levorg at #26 is the only all-new model in the Top 30.

Suzuki Hustler Japan August 2014. Picture courtesy of webcg.comThe Suzuki Hustler is the most successful new launch of 2014 in Japan.

Kei cars

For the first time since the Suzuki WagonR in 2008, the best-selling vehicle in Japan in 2014 is a Kei car the Daihatsu Tanto, for the first time crowned both in the Kei and overall categories thanks its relaunch that led sales up a gargantuan 62% to 234,456 units. The Tanto broke its all-time monthly sales record in March at 30,688 deliveries. The Honda N-BOX is kicked down to #2 while the Suzuki WagonR remains #3. In a very dynamic market, the Nissan Dayz more than doubles its sales year-on-year to reach #4, the Honda N-WGN spends its first full year in market in 5th position with almost 150,000 sales while the Daihatsu Mira, Move, Suzuki Spacia and Alto all eclipse 100,000 annual deliveries by a large margin. The super cute Suzuki Hustler is the most successful all-new vehicle in the country (all categories) with stellar sales hitting 104,234. Notice also the Daihatsu Wake landing at #16 with 16,610 sales.

VW Golf Japan 2014. Picture courtesy of motordays.comThe VW Golf hits a record 32,410 sales in Japan in 2014.

Foreign models

As it has been the case for at least the last 14 years, the VW Golf leads foreign models in Japan with sales up 32% to 32,410, earning it a 25th spot in the overall models ranking and to my knowledge the first time a foreign model sells above 30,000 units in a single year, also breaking the 10,000 quarterly sales for the first time during Q1. Mini is up 3% to #2 but the Mercedes C-Class comes in close at #3 thanks to sales up 30%, overtaking the BMW 3 Series (-15%). The Audi A3 more than doubles its sales on 2013 to land in 6th place thanks to the new sedan, the Mercedes S-Class flamboyantly finds its way back into the Top 20 at #13 with 6,706 sales thanks to the new model while the Mercedes CLA (#19) and GLA (#20) make a noticed first appearance. Note the entire Top 10 is composed of German cars and there are only 3 non-Germans in the Top 20: the Volvo V40 (#11), V60 (#15) and Fiat 500 (#16)…

Previous post: Japan December 2014: Honda Grace lands directly at #10

Previous post (imports): Japan Imports Q4 2014: Mercedes C-Class up to 2nd place

Previous year: Japan Full Year 2013: Toyota Aqua celebrates first year on top

Previous year (Kei): Japan Kei cars Full Year 2013: Honda N-BOX takes control

Previous year (imports): Japan Imports Full Year 2013: BMW 3 Series up 69% to #2

Two years ago: Japan FY 2012: Toyota Aqua most successful launch in 20 years, tickles Prius

Two years ago (Kei): Japan Kei cars FY 2012: Daihatsu Mira ends 9 years of Suzuki Wagon R reign

Two year ago (imports): Japan Imports Full Year 2012: VW Golf #1, Mini at record heights

Full Year 2014 Top 60 brands, Top 30 models, Top 40 Kei cars and Top 20 imports vs. Full 2013 figures below.

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