Japan's unlikely rise to luxury car dominance

A major factor that helped the new nameplates was a 1981 voluntary trade agreement that limited imports of Japanese automobiles into the ...


A major factor that helped the new nameplates was a 1981 voluntary trade agreement that limited imports of Japanese automobiles into the United States. Import restrictions, which stretched until the early 1990sand the resulting loss of sales prompted the Japanese to create more expensive vehicles to increase their profits.

Toyota was pumping a billion 1980s dollars into the F1 project and mustering 3,700 of its best engineers. There would be a 4.0-liter V8. It would run as quiet as a… well, like a Mercedes. It would cost $40,000. (Instant car buyer reaction: “$40,000 for a Japanese car?”) Behind the scenes awaited the all-aluminum two-seater Acura NSX. At $65,000, it was the most expensive Japanese car at that time. It was a superb example of engineering: aluminum suspension, four-channel anti-lock brakes, 270 horsepower mid-engine V6 with variable valve timing, as in VTEC.

And then there was Nissan. Infiniti launched in 1989 with two cars: the M30, a dated coupe, and the first-generation Q45. Both cars were already several years old when they arrived in the United States. Some reviewers compared the interiors to Japanese tapestries, and what didn’t help dispel that idea was an ad campaign featuring rocks and flowers but no car. As one comedian noted, Infiniti sales changed little, but rocks and trees were selling well.

But subsequent vehicles, like the 2003 G35 sport sedan and FX crossover, both established Infiniti’s engineering chops and proved popular with enthusiasts. “Made in Japan” started to mean something different.

“The Big Three Japanese automakers developed premium brands because they believed they could compete in the U.S. market for quality, performance and dealership experience,” said automotive analyst Bill Howard. in New Jersey, adding that Lexus quickly won sales with the luxury and superb fit and finish.

“Acura was five years ahead of Lexus and Infiniti,” he continued. “But Acuras had a reputation for being nicer, sportier Hondas – both had stick shifters – whereas buyers today are unaware that several Lexus models are just much nicer Toyotas.”

Looking at some sales figures, Howard found that BMW, Mercedes and Lexus each ended 2021 with around 330,000 sales in the United States.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Japan's unlikely rise to luxury car dominance
Japan's unlikely rise to luxury car dominance
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