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A Tale of Two Top Tens: Japan and U.S. Make, Buy Very Different Vehicles - The Kiinote

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 2015-07-02 Ron Kiino
A Tale of Two Top Tens: Japan and U.S. Make, Buy Very Different Vehicles - The Kiinote

About the size of California, a state that saw new-car sales of around 1.8 million last year, Japan is a car-hungry culture, consuming more than 5.5 million new vehicles over the same period. In other words, Japan fits three times as many new cars in its Golden State-size borders as the Golden State itself. For context, total U.S. car sales came in at 16.5 million; thus, if Japan were the size of the U.S., it would translate to new-car sales of about 143 million. Whoa.

I've been driving in Japan for the past 10 months, and here are my takeaways: The roads are tight and congested, the fuel expensive, and the vehicles small and narrow. No surprise then that six of the country's top 10 are compacts or smaller, and nine of 10 are either strictly hybrid or offer a hybrid option. (If you counted the 660cc-engine class of Kei cars, the top 10 would include seven of the 63-horsepower mini machines.) On the other hand, America's automotive landscape is quite the opposite—larger vehicles sipping cheap fuel, rolling along wide roads and thousand-mile highways. Translation? America's top three sellers are full-size pickups. That big truck gets only 15 mpg? With gas at around $3 a gallon? Big deal—let's roll. Beyond that, America's top 10 reflects a domestic/import brand ratio of 40/60, with all of the 60 coming from Japanese nameplates, which, ironically, are almost entirely assembled in the U.S. Meanwhile, the ratio for Japan's top 10 registers at 100/0. Of its 5.5 million total vehicle sales, imports account for barely 290,000 units, with the VW Golf No. 1 at around 31,000.

Toyota Aqua G Sports © Provided by MotorTrend Toyota Aqua G Sports

The U.S buys more Nissan GT-Rs than Japan buys Chryslers.

Toyota and Honda, the No. 1 and 2 brands in Japan and No. 3 and 5 in the U.S., combine to dominate the lists, taking eight spots at home and five in America. Yet each country's top-selling Toyota and Honda failed to make the other's top 10. Hmm. In fact, the Camry, nearly 430,000 strong in the U.S., struggled to crack 8,000 in Japan, and the Aqua (Prius C in America) boasted more Japanese sales on its own than America's Prius trio put together. And you thought there were a lot of Priuses in the U.S. The only car to make both lists? The ho-hum Toyota Corolla, aka the best-selling car globally of all time. Ford bookends America's top 10 with the No. 1 F-Series and No. 10 Fusion, two vehicle lines that together account for more than a million units, more than Japan's top seven added up. What doesn't add up? Ford mustered just 4,783 sales in Japan, or about as many F-Series trucks as it sells every two-and-one-third days at home.


2014 Sales By Model
 JapanSalesUnited StatesSales
1Toyta Aqua233,209Ford F-Series753,851
2Honda Fit202,838Chevrolet Silverado529,755
3Toyota Prius183,614Ram pickups439,789
4Toyota Corolla114,331Toyota Camry428,606
5Toyota Voxy109,174Honda Accord388,374
6Nissan Note106,765Toyota Corolla339,498
7Honda Vezel96,029Nissan Altima335,644
8Toyota Vitz89,496Honda CR-V335,019
9Nissan Serena76,909Honda Civic325,981
10Toyota Noah69,605Ford Fusion306,860

Except for the Honda Vezel (HR-V in the U.S.) at Japan's No. 7 and the CR-V at America's No. 8, crossovers are conspicuously absent from the two top tens. Beside thinking, "Go, Honda!" you might be wondering, "Weren't crossovers taking over the world?" In Japan, where only two more cracked the top 20, not so much, but in the U.S., where another four filled spots between 11 and 20, much more so. No, in Japan, the mini minivan, or MPV, assumes the crossover role, with the Toyota Voxy and Noah and Nissan Serena occupying three top 10 spots.

The Camry, nearly 430,000 strong in the U.S., struggled to crack 8,000 in Japan. The Corolla was the only one to make both lists.

Stepping away from the top 10 lists reveals some notable factoids. For instance, the U.S. buys more Nissan GT-Rs (1,436) than Japan buys Chryslers (1,292) or Chevrolets (1,252). Like I said, America's got the space and the wide, never-ending roads. All of which come in handy when dealing with a 600-hp, fire-breathing mutant lizard.

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