Japanese Imports

History of Japanese Imports:

If you keep an eye on car production figures you will have noticed that China is now the largest car producer on the planet.  Last year they turned out 18.5 million motor cars and this year should easily top  20 million, That’s right, there’s not so many bicycles in Beijing anymore. Back in the Eighties though The biggest car producing country was Japan. It Took us all a while to work out that they had a lot of very cheap used cars floating about in their domestic market, and that they drove on the same side of the road as us.

The Japanese import trade was probably started by New Zealand Students who noticed how cheap the cars were when they were in Japan studying or teaching English. They started to send cars back home and a couple of them stayed out there and set up their own companies. The good news probably spread from New Zealand to Ireland through family connections but by the Early 1980’s a trickle of used Japanese cars started to appear in Ireland.

The first major commercial importer to Ireland was a company calling itself IVI(international vehicle imports)From about 1983 onwards they started to import large volumes of cars, And although this had an effect on the local market it didn’t really threaten domestic sales, as the first cars that came in tended to be low spec Nissan micras or sunnys with odd-shaped grilles.  IVI eventually went bust and for a period no Japanese cars were being imported into the British Isles.

The second wave of Japanese Imports began in the late 80’s/ Early 90’s.  This time it was as a consequence of Japanese Motorsport.  As a result of Manufacturer funding, British and Irish drivers were getting paid to compete in Japanese domestic track and rally championships which was almost unheard of back home.  A number of drivers like the Kiwi students ten years beforehand noticed that used cars in Japan were cheap, however this time they were not looking at micras and starlets they had an eye for Skylines,300ZXs and Supras.

This was coupled with a new wave of public interest in exciting Japanese cars. Nissan,Subaru,Mazda and Mitsubishi were producing mental rally cars for the road. Toyota(supra) Mazda(rx-7)Nissan(skyline)and Honda(nsx) were producing  useable supercars for attainable dough. Some desirable Japanese cars like Mx-5’s and Mr-2’s and Shoguns(pajeros)where in short supply and some other models like Mr2 Turbos,prelude Vtechs and diesel Previas weren’t available in the U.K.  The Irish where the first volume importers, However it didn’t take long to work out that most of their customers were British and the cars where all heading across the water.  The reason for this was The British governments block on commercial importing to protect the domestic trade. The loophole was cars could be imported into the U.K from other European states as “personal imports” This meant British customers had to fly over, stay the night in Dublin and return with the car and all paperwork that  supported their trip.

Pretty soon we were all able to work our way around this with transporter loads of cars going to the U.K with books of petrol and B+B receipts in the glove box. Twenty four-hour insurance certs were printed out for £25 a pop by local brokers.  DVLA initially tried to make it as hard as possible to allow the trade to prosper but they were fighting against a tide.  Eventually the British government relented and allowed commercial importation into the U.K, there were many reasons why but mostly they were missing out on a tonne of Vat and Duty payments. Some of the Ports where also unhappy to be losing business to Dublin.

Japanese import auctions began to be run in Windsor Car Auctions in Dublin and after they proved successful The Company opened a new Auction in Southampton Docks. When Windsor decided to commit to their Irish operation only, most of their staff now based in the U.K decided to set up their own Auction operation.  Soon after competing Auctions opened up in Southampton and later still new auctions popped up in Liverpool, Manchester, Bristol and Newport. This was the time of the Jap car explosion in the U.K. Many of the large Japanese exporters linked up to supply the Auctions. Major companies Like Paragon Trading, Redsun Ltd,Hybrid, Springside Motors and Elgarbridge plus others  imported in excess of 1000 cars per month for supply to Auction.

Over the years Dealers overcame their fears of a 12 hour flight and a diet of Sushi and slowly many auction customers began to import directly themselves. The Japanese Import auctions in the U.K mistakenly took a short-term view. They ended up giving the trade a bad name by inviting cars from any dog who wanted to supply, this led to a lot of substandard, crashed or clocked cars coming in and cheapening the good stock . Eventually Proper Importers were no longer able to buy from the Auctions as a result all the Auctions in the U.K have now gone to the wall.

Today the Japanese import trade is based on quality rather than quantity. The strength of the Yen makes many imports seem too expensive on Paper but the condition of the cars available and the rarity of some limited edition sports cars and 7/8 seater vehicles means a steady stream of cars still come in every month. Most dealers now either deal with a specialist export agent in Japan or in the U.K  and the odd few still go out on buying trips themselves.

This is a very brief overview of where the trade came from, In our next guides we will be looking at agents, reviewing Auction centres in Japan, Giving you an Import guide, How to read a Japanese auction report and a cost Calculator to give you an Idea of how much it costs to bring a car in from Japan.  CAP for a time ran a grey import pricing book but It was hopelessly erratic and never sold in big numbers, as a result it has been shelved. Today as per our buying guide information, the best place to value a car is to look for the median in retail magazines and websites. For Dealers we are working on compiling a monthly valuation guide for models at auction in Japan in Yen. As you can imagine this is a big task so we are looking for input as to what models you would like us to cover. Please contact us using the contact form or email md@motordealing.com with your suggestions about Japanese imports.

For our Diary on Auctions and sales to look out for in Japan please click Here.

For a Guide to reading and decoding an Auction sheet please click here.

For a round-up of answers to the most frequently asked questions please click Here.