Association, Inc.

Issue No. 3, 2006

Car Trends in Japan

by Peter Nunn

Analysing the wants and needs of Japan’s car owners and buyers is no easy task, but in fiscal year 2005 (ending 31 March 2006) JAMA put together a comprehensive survey to do just that.

JAMA, in fact, conducts this survey every other year.  The latest batch of findings reveals that almost 80% of Japanese households now own passenger cars, and that multiple car ownership stands close to 40%.  Putting this into numbers, Japan has a population of around 128 million, according to the latest national census, with households numbering some 47 million.  If Japan’s roads seem to be getting a little busier, JAMA’s data confirms it.  More than 57.1 million cars are now in use in Japan, up from 55.2 million in 2003.

The fiscal 2005 survey furthermore identifies a slight increase in the number of women principal drivers.  It also indicates that the percentage of principal drivers aged 50 or over has levelled off at 46%.

Two factors of which the domestic car industry is well aware—longer car ownership and downsizing—also show up in the survey. Japan’s average period of car ownership has now stretched to 6.8 years, versus 6.5 years in 2003. 

Downsizing is another significant issue, with Japan’s unique, low-cost 660cc minicar sector, in particular, recently showing strong growth.  Here are the latest numbers:  While the main vehicle market (torokusha) fell 3.8% to 2 million units for January-June 2006, the 660cc minis (kei jidosha) were up 4.7% to 1.07 million units, and could even hit a record 2 million units this calendar year.  Cheap to run and with good economy, the ‘keis’ are entering a new era.

JAMA’s fiscal 2005 survey also indicates that owners replacing new vehicles with used ones represent 11% of all car purchasers, down from 15% in 2003.  Those exchanging used cars for other used cars total 27%, down from 28% in 2003.

The survey underscores the fact that in today’s Japan, there is an increased potential need for assisted-mobility vehicles.  Awareness of safety and environmental issues is also growing. 

Fashions and trends can move fast in Japan, so it will be fascinating to see what the next survey due in fiscal 2007 will turn up.  This latest fiscal 2005 survey was based on 5,250 responses nationwide, and ran between 20 August and 4 September 2005.