Infinity

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.

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The 2013 Infinity Red Bull Racing RB9

Earlier today Red Bull held an event at their Milton Keynes base to unveil the 2013 RB9.

Infiniti Red Bull Racing RB9 Launch

Teammates Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel were on hand to present the RB9 to the media.

In the offseason Webber came under harsh criticism from Vettel’s mentor Helmut Marko. It’s no secret there’s been an underlying tension in the Red Bull Paddock the last couple of seasons. Webber’s contract is up at the end of 2013 and it will be interesting to see if he continues with the team.

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The RB9 sports a slightly different livery to reflect the team’s relationship with title sponsor Infinity.

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The car was described as an “evolution” by its designer Adrian Newey. This doesn’t come as much of a surprise as most teams will be using last year’s cars as building blocks. The biggest changes will come in 2014, as the new technical regulations come into play.

The front and rear wings will be different come race day as the current ones are just for show.

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Red Bull hope to secure their 4th consecutive World Driver’s and Constuctor’s Championships in 2013 with the RB9.

Photos courtesy of Red Bull.

Keep It Rolling

The month of January has brought some insane weather to California. We skipped winter all together and went straight back into summer.

I decided to roll to the NWP4Life meet up, yesterday in Irvine and took some shots of Nat’s G35 on the way.

I’ve never been the greatest with rolling shots. The shutter speed was set a little too high, so I missed out on that nice blurring effect with the wheels and scenery.

The NWP4Life meet up was pretty small. I didn’t really take many pictures since the cars were scattered all over the parking lot. I may throw up some of them later on.

I hope everyone is enjoying the weekend.

G35 Gathering: Part II

I decided to edit a few more of the pictures I took at last weekend’s G35 gathering at Shoreline Village in Long Beach.

I was shocked at how many clean engine bays I saw at the meet. Polishing and full wire tucks are standard practice in this community. The VQ has the potential to be quite pretty.

I saw a lot of cars rocking the Cosworth intake manifold. It definitely blings up the car’s engine bay.

This dumped sedan isn’t of my typical tastes but as a complete car it’s something to admire. That’s all I got from the G meet, Top Secret III will be up later.

G35 Gathering: Part I

Hit up the G35 gathering at Shoreline Village in Long Beach last Saturday. My good homie owns a G35 sedan and this is the second year I joined him at the meet. There was a pretty big turn out this year of over 60 cars. Tonight I was messing around with some of the pictures I took and decided to post them up.

Majority of the cars at the meet were sedans, but a fair amount of G35 and G37 coupes showed up as well.

Even had a fair share of 350Z’s at the meet. I was particularly digging this one with the Work Equips. The weather was a great and it was a nice way to spend a Saturday morning. I like checking out non-Subaru meets and seeing what the rest of the tuning community is up to. I have plenty more pictures to edit, so if there’s time I’ll put some more up later this week.

G35 Meet

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Yesterday I hit up a big G35 meet in Long Beach. There were over 50 cars in and out during the course of the morning, including that 600hp black sedan in the picture. My friend Nat lost out on a free Nismo bumper in a raffle while we grabbed some lunch, sorry buddy. Cool meet overall and it was nice to see what the other car communities are up to rather than Subarus all the time.

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My friend Nat just put some Linea Corse Lemans on his G35 sedan.

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I’m totally not a fan of fake wheels but lets face it, BBS LM’s are bank, and I wouldn’t expect a full-time college student to afford them. In the meantime these still look pretty good on his G35. The front wheels are 19×8.5 +15 and the rear are 19×10 +20, pretty aggressive stance.