Ford

Japan’s Automotive Identity Crisis

List five sports or performance cars under $50,000 that the Japanese automotive industry is producing right now. I’ll get things started:

  1. Honda Civic Type R
  2. Mazda MX-5 (Miata)
  3. Toyota 86 (FR-S)/Subaru BRZ
  4. Subaru STI
  5. ???

What else? Anything besides the 370Z which I’ve intentionally not mentioned because no one bought one. Don’t be fooled by unattainable halo cars priced to compete with Ferraris or wishful thinking concepts that will never see a production line – the Japanese automotive industry is in the middle of an identity crisis.

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Tokyo Auto Salon continues to be one of the most important motor shows in the world and the 2016 edition just wrapped up last month. It was an interesting glimpse into not only Japan’s aftermarket industry but the country’s automotive industry as a whole. What really stood out in 2016, as opposed to other years, was the lack of new sports cars. A show long celebrated for its variety, has become a showcase for the Nissan GT-R, a car that’s been with us since 2007 and now costs over $100,000 new.

Seeing the finest examples of affordable performance cars has always been what’s made Tokyo Auto Salon so exciting. Historically, the show’s been filled with the best modified offerings from Nissan, Toyota, Honda, Subaru, Mitsubishi, and Mazda. For a nearly a decade now, the focus has begun shifting more heavily towards European cars the GT-R, a fine example of Japanese engineering, now mostly a case of been there, done that. The fact that aftermarket parts manufacturers and tuners are still so focused on this car speaks to the larger problem of a lack of alternatives from Japan’s half dozen automotive heavyweights.

With the exception of the four models mentioned above, there’s been a sharp decline in affordable, performance-oriented cars coming from Japan. In the last decade we’ve seen production end for the Honda S2000, Mazda RX-8 and Mitsuitbishi Evo. Mitsubishi also threatens to pull out of the North American market completely. Honda, who once set the gold standard for their entire market were forced to redesign the Civic after one model year because it did so poorly. Nissan, the Japanese manufacturer with the richest motorsports history has become more known in North America for SUVs, trucks and crossovers. More recently, Korean manufacturers like Hyundai and Kia are starting to take Japan’s place in the automotive marketplace.

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Everyone is obsessed with the Ford Focus RS right now. It arrives in North America later this year and will be a massive hit with enthusiasts. Starting at around $35,000 which is cheaper than you can get a Subaru STI for these days, it’s just more proof that there’s a market yearning for this type of car. The Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ was supposed to be the wakeup call to Japanese manufacturers when it became a global sensation 4 years ago. We had all hoped it would jumpstart a second coming of Japan’s greatest hits in the forms of new Silvias, Supras and RX-7s. Instead, Toyota lost money on their LFA technical exercise, Honda gave Tony Stark an NSX that thinks it’s a McLaren and Nismo’s IDx concept pointed at all of us and laughed.

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An automotive industry founded on affordability, cleverness and fun is producing more questionable offerings than ever, but it doesn’t have to stay that way:

Understand your customers – If you listen to the media, everyone drives a hybrid or an electric these days. Wrong. The Prius remains the one exception that’s had overwhelming success globally. Aside from it, Japan’s hybrid and electric offerings (think Honda CR-Z) cater to even more obscure, niche markets than their performance cars. How did Subaru make the transition from cult car maker, thought to be from Australia and driven by people in Vermont, to the powerhouse it’s become? They have the Impreza and its loyal owners community to thank. Enthusiast culture continues to thrive and with an entire generation growing up in Japanese cars, the customer base is well established and ready for the next 86/BRZ competitor.

Stop trying to be European – Japan has always been great at doing its own thing. Cultural philosophy plays a huge role in the design process and that sets them apart from their competitors. Everyday heroes like the Skyline and Supra took on and in many cases beat some of the best Europe had to offer. Luxury is never something Japanese cars have done very well, but functionality, reliability and affordable performance are. The ever bloating ranges from Acura, Infinity and Lexus have come at the cost of their parent brands and with little to no motorsports pedigree, halo cars priced well into the six figures will always struggle to lure away buyers from the established Europeans.

We deserve your very best – This is an argument that can also be applied to the European manufacturers and something I discussed concerning the Subaru S207. Past arguments made pertained to fears over sales figures and the archaic notion that we’re not worthy. Welcome to globalization. Japanese manufacturers would do well to take more calculated risks with some of their special performance models. The limited production S207 is a prime example of a car that would fly out of Subaru showrooms in America. Japanese manufacturers should have little concern over being able to sell upgraded trim and performance packages abroad. If it’s really an issue, make it a special order option through the dealership. The days of impossible to obtain JDM bumpers should be long gone.

Time to move on from the GT-R – Our collective fascination with all things Nismo, Skyline and GT-R will never wane. The R35 defies what’s possible in a production car and will remain one of the greatest technical achievements of its generation. With an asking price of over six figures however, few will be lucky enough to ever own, much less modify one. That’s unfortunate considering a majority of the Japanese aftermarket caters so heavily to the GT-R. It’s time to build something else!

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It could be argued that the late 90s through the early 2000s were the golden age of Japanese sports cars. Nearly every manufacturer had multiple offerings in their respective stables. The aftermarket industry was also thriving at pre-stance movement levels when people still upgraded performance. We can blame stricter emissions globally as a reason for the demise of many of Japan’s greatest hits, but consider the fact the BMW are still putting inline-6’s in their cars with great success and most European and American manufacturers have made the jump to turbochargers, something Japan made mainstream long before everyone else.

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Automotive brands are obsessed with tapping into their histories and using them as marketing strategies. How about using history as means of understanding what you’ve always been best at? Japanese manufacturers should challenge themselves to rekindle some of what made them great in the first place. People don’t remember who made the most successful mid-sized sedan, they do remember who built the engines for the most dominant car in Formula 1 history.

Nissan, Toyota, Honda, Subaru, Mitsubishi, Mazda – it’s time to have some fun again!

Photos courtesy of Subaru, Ford, Lexus, Acura & Nissan.

Cars & Coffee

It seems only fitting that any automotive blog based in Southern California, do an obligatory Cars & Coffee post. This is by no means an in depth coverage; Mike Garrett and Albert Roxas already have that covered. These are just some cars that stood out for me, on my last visit in June.

Cars & Coffee gets started right around the crack of dawn. Getting up on time is never easy. It’s a struggle and you just have to deal with it. Once you’re there, the sleep deprivation subsides and the sights, sounds and smells take over. Waking up early was definitely worth it.

You’re always going to see something different at Cars & Coffee. It’s a great opportunity to check out all the cars in detail. This was my first time seeing the Ferrari 599 GTO in person. It’s quite a big car, more than I expected. The Tipo F140C is the most power production V12 Ferrari has ever produced. It’s very subdued compared to the polished velocity stacks on Ferraris of old.

A Ford GT40 in pristine condition. It could’ve rolled right off the showroom floor.

One thing you can be sure of at Cars & Coffee, there’s going to be Porsches. Next to Corvettes, I’d say there are more Porsches than any other make of car. I really liked the cream white and black combination on the 911 above. Does anyone know which version of the 911 this is? I’m pretty sure it’s a 2.7 from 1976, I could be wrong though. I’m terrible with 911 models.

The 550 Spyder is a thing of beauty. It’s easily one of the most gorgeous cars Porsche has ever produced. It’s also the car that James Dean fatally crashed in.

This particular 550 was completely spotless. Like the Ford GT40, it could’ve come straight from the dealership.

In stark contrast to the Porsches was this Frankenstein van by Slims Fabrication.

This is what I hate most. The popularity of Cars & Coffee has acted as a double-edged sword. The meet has definitely gotten bigger and better, but it’s brought in a bunch of wannabes. This dude needs to put his car in the parking garage like everyone else. I have a WRX too and you don’t see my shit on display. Subarus don’t belong at Cars & Coffee. Save your Rotas for the In-N-Out meets.

A Mosler MT900S, for sale no less. This car had a swarm of people around it all morning.

The owner was a great guy though. He was taking the time to talk to everyone about his car. That’s one of the other awesome things about Cars & Coffee, the opportunity to talk with the owners. It’s a very social atmosphere. Everyone is excited to share their passion for cars and it’s a very casual setting to do so.

Nearly every car at the meet owes something to the Mercedes-Benz 300SL.

I’ll end things with this Porsche 997 on Work Meisters. It always turns up at Cars & Coffee and I always have to take a minute to stop and admire. I believe it’s a Carrera with an OEM trunk spoiler, but I could be wrong. There’s a lot of money invested in this car, something that becomes apparent upon closer inspection.

There have certainly been better turnouts, but you can be sure there will always be something cool to see at Cars & Coffee.

Block X Atkinson

As long as DC keeps putting out these dope rally videos, I’m going to keep posting them.

Ken Block and Chris Atkinson at the wheel of a RWD Ford Escort. Looks like a blast to me. Just reading the YouTube comments and scanning some other stuff around the internet, there seems to be a lot of hate going around. Let me say this again for the second time this month; Subaru couldn’t provide Block with the chance to compete in the WRC because they are no longer competing. It was fun while it lasted but Block ultimately wanted to go to the next level, that’s where Ford came in. The Subaru owners club can be at times very stubborn, it’s no wonder Top Gear compares us to cavemen. All I’ll say is get over it and stop being jealous that Ken Block has a cooler job than you. At least EQH seems to agree with me. I look forward to his progress in professional rallying.

New Beginnings

A lot of people are upset about Ken Block’s move to Ford. Although I’m not the biggest Ford fan, I can totally see why he did it. Subaru was great for a time and they really helped Block achieve world-wide fame but they were only in a position to allow his career  reach a certain level. By signing with Ford, Block will be able to compete in the World Rally Championship and ultimately take his career to the next level. This is a disappointing outcome for Subaru fans but a great one for Ken Block fans. I think he’ll do really well with Ford.

JR In JP

If you read Speedhunters a while back, you would have remembered some pictures of Formula D badass Vaughn Gitten Jr. drifting in Japan. Anyway, I was on Nori Yaro the other day and came across a post with one of the videos they filmed with JR in Japan.

Episode 3 just came out last week, Episode 4 and hopefully others will be coming in the near future.