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Japan's automakers struggle with a 'youth' problem

Today, even those young Japanese who do get the car bug are unimpressed by the domestic choices on offer

Reuters  |  Yokohama 

Japan's automakers struggle with a 'youth' problem

By day, the Daikoku Parking Area hums with transport trucks en route to and from the On weekend evenings, it transforms into a revved-up runway of tuned-up The unassuming rest stop is famous to car enthusiasts as a temple of the country’s motor culture, but it also illustrates a “youth” problem that auto companies such as Toyota Motor Corp and Nissan Motor Co are scrambling to address. The crowd last Friday —around 50 supercar fans who huddled around the back of a loading truck to get a first glimpse of the latest Lamborghini Huracan delivered days before to collector Takeshi Kimura — were mainly men in their 40s and 50s. “Today’s young people, they came of age during the recession, and some of them didn’t grow up with a family car,” said Kimura, who has earned a reputation on Japanese social media as an ambassador of car culture thanks to stunts including coasting his Ferrari F40 down ski slopes and racing his supercars around a driving school practice course. “As a result, people hit their 20s and they’re not aware of how fun cars can be.” On top of that, the cars whose finely-tuned growls echoed beneath the overpasses that criss-cross the Daikoku lot are mostly from the 1990s heyday of Japan’s auto industry. Back then, Honda Motor, Nissan and their compatriots forged a global reputation for their stylish, fast, highly engineered cars.

Drifting, the technique of sliding rear-wheel-drive cars through bends that entered popular culture through films like the Fast and the Furious franchise, was born on Japan’s winding roads. Today, even those young Japanese who do get the car bug are unimpressed by the domestic choices on offer. “These days just aren’t making cars I’d want to drive,” said Sho Watabe, a 20-year-old student who had rocked up to Daikoku in his 1996 Mazda RX-7. “If you look at the way cars are designed these days, they all look the same. They all lack personality ... .” Japanese car makers for years have grappled with falling interest in cars among young people, which, along with a rapidly greying society, has led to a 17 percent fall in domestic vehicle sales since 2000, data from the Auto Dealers Association shows. The number of Japanese licence holders aged under 30 has dropped 35 percent since 2001, according to National Police Agency data, even as the total number of license holders has increased around 9 percent.

First Published: Thu, October 26 2017. 22:10 IST
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