When I was a boy growing up in Perkins there were quite a few makes of cars in that small town. My dad drove a Pontiac and later a Plymouth, my uncle drove a Hudson, my grandpa drove a Nash and Mr. Stumpbo down the street drove a Packard and my first car was a Mercury. There was a De Soto and a Studebaker, all names of cars no longer made in America.
A couple years later when I was stationed in Japan in the military, there were quite a few taxis and most of them were Datsun Bluebirds. There were a few other cars made in Japan at that time, but not many. Toyota and Datsun which later became Nissan started making cars in the late 1930s but were interrupted by WW II and the Korean War.
The Japanese auto industry began to pick up steam in the 1950s and in 1959 Toyota entered the American market with the Toyopet Crown which enjoyed very limited success. However, by the mid 1960 Japan passed Germany to become the second largest manufacturer of automobiles in the world and by the 1970s Toyota and Nissan autos were selling well in the U.S.
In 1976 my wife Kayo and I and three sons visited Japan and during that visit Kayo and I were invited by her cousin to a sort of open house at a Toyota dealership in Kyoto where he was the assistant manager. The primary reason for the open house was to meet Miss Japan who was a finalist in the Miss Universe Pageant in 1975.
I eventually got around to looking at the autos and the Toyopet Crown was a really nice car. I also looked at a smaller Toyota Corolla which was introduced in 1966 and in 2018 it was in its 12th generation of production making the Corolla the all-time best-selling car in the world. Through the years the Corolla has been sold in over a hundred countries around the world. Not long after returning from Japan in 1976 I bought my first Toyota, a Corona Mark II at a new Toyota dealership in Tulsa. Since the 1980s Japan has been in the top three countries in the world in automotive production in the world and today there are many models of Japanese vehicles on America’s highways. Toyota, Nissan, Honda, Subaru, Suzuki, Mitsubishi, Mazda, Isuzu an others. The tables have somewhat flipped with regard to who makes many of the cars on our highways. However, while the U.S. has only three major auto makers the U.S. still manufactures and sells more auto than any other country.
U.S. auto makers sell more cars in China than in this country, but sell very few in Japan. It’s amazing that a country1/25th the size of our country and with very limited natural resources have so many successful companies manufacturing and selling autos. One of the major reasons is because they sell cars in over a hundred countries around the world and they produce models that the locals like and will buy.
Some blame import tariffs but there are no import tariffs on cars imported into Japan while there’s a 2.5 percent tariff on cars imported into the U.S. Others say an expensive inspection on foreign-made cars is unfair, however autos manufactured in Japan are required to have the same inspection. The reason for the inspection is because of the large volume of traffic on Japan’s narrow roads. When a car breaks down because of even a minor problem it backs up traffic for many miles. The inspections are intended to reduce breakdowns by detecting possible problems before breakdowns occur, but even the Japanese say part of the intent is to encourage people to trade in their cars earlier. Another factor is the size of many American autos. They are too large for the roads and streets in Japan. Additionally, the cost of fuel in Japan in significantly higher than in much of the US. Several years ago Kayo and I took to a couple of female OSU students from Japan to Branson. When I stopped for gas they jumped out to help fill the tank, wash the windows or whatever they could do to help. One noticed the price of gas and said “Wow, that’s higher than in Japan”, however when I pointed out that the cost was per gallon as opposed to per liter in Japan she realized gas here is about half the price it is in Japan. Another factor is rapport. It’s quite common for auto dealers in Japan to go to the home of a prospective buyer for test drives. If the person buys a car, the dealer handles all the paperwork including insurance and will go to the person’
s home when it’s time to renew insurance to take care of the paperwork. The dealer will pick the car when maintenance is required and the buyer can take their car in for a free car wash every two weeks. Such hospitality has helped Japanese automakers stay dominant in the Japanese market. About 10 percent of the cars in Japan are imported, mostly from Europe where the auto makers have made a greater effort to produce models that appeal to the Japanese. For example, they put the steering wheel on the right side of the car because people drive on the left in Japan and European auto makers are making an effort to establish rapport somewhat like the Japanese dealers. Some talk about quality but I’ll leave that alone as there are enough other factors to keep the debate going for some time.
Larry Jones is a member of the Stillwater Sister Cities Council.