Arrow-right Camera


Raising The Bamboo Curtain U.S. Automakers Face Bumpy Road In Japan

Amid the Japanese-language signs for noodle shops and mom-and-pop stores in this northern Tokyo suburb, the giant blue Ford logo can’t be missed.

The fact it’s there at all is a sign of progress: U.S. auto dealers remain few and far between in Japan. Despite claims by the Clinton administration of significant progress, obstacles persist for U.S. automakers seeking to break into the tightly-knit car market.

In Washington on Friday, the Clinton administration reported a 37 percent increase in auto exports to Japan. But it also said too few dealers in Japan are willing to stock and sell American cars.

“Of course I’d rather be selling Japanese cars,” said Toru Adachi, vice president of the suburban Tokyo Ford Sainichi dealership. The dealership has been selling about 30 Fords a month since switching from Nissan.

Selling Nissans, he said, was sometimes as easy as flipping open a catalog. Selling Fords takes considerably more effort, even the relatively popular Taurus with steering wheels on the right side like other cars sold in Japan.

“It’s a first-time effort on both sides. We’re trying to sell. And they’re trying out the car,” Adachi said.

Since last year’s accord, only 30 new major dealers have signed on to sell U.S. cars - far short of the American Automobile Manufacturers Association’s goal of 200 new outlets by the end of the year.

The U.S. side says lack of access to dealerships stifles sales.

But Japanese dealers say quality, not collusion, has been a key factor in keeping U.S. cars off the lots.

“All we needed were products that made us want to sell them,” said association spokesman Yasuhisa Kawagishi. “We’re running a business.”