Didn’t make it to Tokyo this year, but the understated nature of a show that once grabbed the international headlines thanks to the unfettered creativity of its car-makers, got me thinking about a few parallels with the demise of the global importance of the British show.
Like the British Show, I just don’t see how Tokyo can assume the same importance it once had on the global stage, a struggle that the British Show fought and lost a long time ago.
The reasons are very different, but the outcome very similar.
The difference is that the Japanese domestic car-makers will always have enough financial clout to pepper Tokyo with a raft of new models and concepts.
This year economic conditions got in the way, together with a gentleman’s agreement not to put on too good show so as to appear insensitive in the face of a tanking domestic economy.
So in future there can be plenty of home market new model launches and wacky concepts from the domestic Big Five.
Where Tokyo is going to struggle is attracting global debuts from non-domestic brands – the sign of a true international car show – and the intractable problem never resolved by the British show.
And the root of that problem is two-fold.
Firstly foreign car-makers are much more likely to save up global launches for Shanghai, the Chinese show that falls in the same year as Tokyo. The Porsche Panamera reveal at Shanghai surely is the way things are heading.
Not only do reveals in the world’s fastest-growing market for new cars say more about a car company’s global ambitions, but China also does the job of opening a window to Asian media and financiers. A role that Tokyo once filled.
And secondly there’s also a prospect of actually selling some of those cars in China, the other reason Tokyo will surely drop down the international show calendar ranking.
Japanese car-buyers still resolutely refuse to buy western models, as a quick look at new car sales illustrates.
The penetration of import name plates in Japan is stuck at just 6 per cent and has actually fallen in the past decade. In 2006, for example, 278,000 imports were registered in Japan compared to total sales of 4.6m. in 1995 it peaked at nine per cent.
Even in 1965 when Japan was a much more closed market, imports made up 2.2 per cent of total sales.
The chances of this changing must be as slim as a slim thing, not the least because Japan’s population is ageing alarmingly and old people are least likely to take a risk on an import.
Here the comparison with the British show is very interesting. Britain’s show has lost its pre-eminence because the domestic car-makers are too weak, in Japan it’s the other way around, they’re too strong. Ironic.
So there seems little logical reason for international car-makers going to the expense of exhibiting in Japan. And without those exhibitors, Tokyo will remain a fascinating, but globally less-important car show.