New vehicle sales in Japan edge up 0.7% to post a second consecutive year of gain at 5.272.067 units, the best result since 2014. Foreign models have helped: after trailing the market in 2017, they gain 1.1% to 308.389 sales but remain at a paltry 5.8% share vs. 94.2% for domestic brands. Toyota (-4.9%) still dominates its home market head and shoulders, selling more than twice better than any other carmaker present in the country, but it sees its share thaw from 30.3% to 28.6%. In contrast, the following 5 brands all outpace the market to improve their share, namely Honda (+3.1%), Suzuki (+7.3%), Daihatsu (+2.5%), Nissan (+4.2%) and Mazda (+5.3%), but Mitsubishi (+14.2%) posts the only double-digit gain in the Top 10. Subaru (-16%) plunges and Hino (+4.5%) dislodges Mercedes (-1%) from the annual Top 10 and Lexus (+20.8%) post by far the best performance of all domestic brands, up two spots to #12. Mercedes however remains the most popular foreigner at 1.3% share, distancing Volkswagen (+6%) which has overtaken BMW (-2.9%) with Audi (-6.6%), Mini (+2.2%) and Volvo (+10.4%) in tow. Further down, Alfa Romeo (+36.6%), McLaren (+35.4%), Lotus (+30.2%), Abarth (+26.4%), Jaguar (+24.7%), Peugeot (+19.9%), Lamborghini (+14.3%), Jeep (+13.2%) and Citroen (+13.1%) are among the biggest gainers, yet none of them manages a market share superior to 0.2%.
Over in the regular car ranking, we have a historical first on our hands: despite a 1.9% year-on-year decline, the Nissan Note scores its first ever annual win, taking advantage of the freefalling of the Toyota Prius (-28.2%) while the Toyota Aqua (-3.8%) is also in negative in 2nd place. The Note therefore becomes the first Nissan to ever top the annual regular sales ranking in Japan and only the second non-Toyota nameplate to rank #1 in at least 50 years alongside the Honda Fit (2002 and 2008). As a reminder, the Toyota Corolla led from 1969 to 2001 and 2003 to 2007, the Prius from 2009 to 2012, 2016 and 2017 and the Aqua from 2013 to 2015 – you can consult 1969-2018 Historical Japanese car sales here – keep in mind we are talking regular cars here, not including kei cars, as the Honda N-BOX is by far the best-selling vehicle in Japan in 2018 (see further down). Bizarrely, the Note only ranked #1 five times in 2018 vs. 7 times for the Aqua. The Nissan Serena (+18.3%), Toyota Corolla (+16%) and Roomy (+9.6%) post the largest gains in the Top 10 thanks to, respectively, the arrival of a hybrid ePower variant, the new generation hatch and a prolonged honeymoon period after a late 2016 launch. Knocked out of the Top 10 are the Honda Freed (-19.4%) and C-HR (-34.6%) down 8 spots to #12 now that the launch hype has receded. It however still outsells its archenemy the Vezel (-7.3%) at #15. Other notable Top 50 performers include the Lexus NX300H (+85.1%), Toyota Crown (+73%) pushed by a new generation, Nissan Leaf (+52% but still very far from Toyota’s hybrids), Daihatsu Boon (+45.1%), Subaru Forester (+44.2%), Toyota Alphard (+39.1%), Toyota Land Cruiser W (+30.3%) and Honda StepWGN (+22.4%). Three nameplates end their first full year in market inside the Top 50: the Mazda CX-8 (#29), Suzuki Xbee (#30) and the returning Honda Civic (#37). The Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross (#44) is the only 2018 launch to make it into the Top 50.
The kei car segment (or keijidosha) is specific to Japan and is composed of mini vehicles commanding lower taxes thanks to reduced size (max 3.3m length and 1.48m width) and engine size (max 660 cc and 63 hp). Strikingly, in 2018 no less than 5 kei cars sold more or roughly the same as the regular car best-seller, the Nissan Note. These are the Honda N-BOX (+10.7%), Suzuki Spacia (+45.2%) up 4 spots, Nissan Dayz (+2.9%) up 1, Daihatsu Tanto (-3.4%) down 1 and Daihatsu Move (-3.9%) down 3. Just under 242.000 sales, the N-BOX enjoys a 4th consecutive year as the country’s most popular kei car, a 5th kei win in the past 6 years and a 2nd year in a row as Japan’s best-selling vehicle outright. The N-BOX even manages to widen the gap with the 2nd-placed kei car from 77.000 sales in 2017 to 90.000 this year. This year’s N-BOX volume is a new nameplate record, beating its previous best of 234.995 set in 2013, and the 2nd largest annual volume ever by a kei car below the 257.590 units of the Suzuki Wagon R in 2000. The Mazda Flair Wagon (+84.2%), Suzuki Jimny (+55.3%), Daihatsu Atrai Wagon (+48.4%), Honda N-ONE (+25.2%) and Daihatsu Mira (+12%) also make waves further down the ranking.
In the foreign nameplates aisle, the Mini (+2.2%) enjoys a third consecutive year on top, however this score is misleading as both the hatch and Countryman models are grouped together and no split available. The VW Golf (-6.7%) slides further away from the pole position while the Mercedes C-Class (+10.6%) is very solid in third place. The VW Polo (+17.7%) is lifted up two spots to #4 by the new generation, overtaking the Mercedes E-Class (-21.2%) and BMW 3 Series (-29.3%) while the Volvo “40 Series” – including the V40 and XC40, no split available (+25.7%) posts the largest gain in the Top 20 among models with known 2017 figures, leaping up 7 spots to #6. The Mercedes A-Class (+19.8%) – ranking #5 in Q4 thanks to the new model – and GLC (+13.2%) also post splendid double-digit upticks. The Audi A4, Fiat 500 and Mercedes GLA are replaced in the Top 20 by the BMW X3 (#17), VW Tiguan (#19) and Audi Q2 (#20).
Previous year (1): Japan 2017: Honda N-BOX and Toyota Prius on top, Toyota C-HR wins one month
Previous year (2): Japan 2017: Complete Japanese models data now available
Two years ago (1): Japan 2016: Toyota Prius returns to #1 spot after 3 year-hiatus
Two years ago (2): Japan 2016: Now with exclusive Top 170 All local models
Full Year 2018 Top 60 All-brands, Top 50 regular cars, Top 37 All-kei cars and Top 20 foreign models vs. Full Year 2017 figures below.
Full December 2018 Top 55 All-brands, Top 33 All-kei cars and Top 50 regular cars, Q4 2018 Top 20 foreigners below.