Mitsubishi

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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I Still Prefer The IX

It feels like the Evo X has been around longer than any iteration of any car ever. It’s definitely grown on me over the years, especially with all of the great things Ryan Gates has been doing with the 311RS project. However, I’m a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to cars and in most cases, new doesn’t mean better. The Evo IX will always been one of those historically great looking Japanese sedans, especially when it’s wearing Voltex aero and built by Import Racing.

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Photo courtesy of Alok Paleri, Import Racing & Speedhunters.

Tokyo Auto Salon 2013

It’s early Monday morning in Japan and this year’s Tokyo Auto Salon has officially come to an end. Here’s a sampling of all the rest of the cars present at Makuhari Messe.

As always Nissan had a very big presence at this year’s show. While the GT-R remains the king, Silvas and Skylines have not been forgotten.

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TAS needs more builds like this fantastic 180SX from SPIRIT Rei.

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It’s hard to go wrong with a white R32 on Advans. Funny enough it’s the simple builds that stand out most at TAS.

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Phoenix’s Power had the GT-R well represented at the show including this lime green example on BBS LMs.

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Next door to Phoenix’s Power was Top Secret. They also showed up with a few different GT-Rs as well as their Rocket Bunny kitted 86.

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This year could be the biggest ever turnout for imports, both European and American at TAS. Ferrari had a large presence as did Porsche and BMW amongst others.

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The Ferrari F40 was given a very nice display this year. The Japanese have always been obsessed with European cars and as exotics get older and become cheaper, we’re going to see a lot more tuners working with them.

Despite strong showings from Nissan and Toyota, Mitsubishi didn’t fare as well in 2013. The Evo X is now 5 years old and it’s beginning to show. It’s disappointing to see a car which once littered the show floor at TAS, suffer the same fate as its Subaru rival. With Mitsuibshi moving towards EV production, the CZ4A may be the last of the great tuner cars from the brand.

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Varis continues to dominate the market. I’m disappointed that Voltex never created their own Evo X wide body kit to compete.

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Unsurprisingly, Toyotas dominated the show in 2013. The 86 is the new darling of the Japanese tuning industry, massively overshadowing its sibling the BRZ.

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A JZX100 with strange lights inside of the wheels. This was a trend seen on a number of cars at TAS.

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Original Runduce was present with their 86 demo car kitted in Varis aero. This car just looks so good and is probably my favorite 86.

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After all these years, the Mazda RX-7 continues to be one of the very best looking Japanese cars.

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Last but not least there’s Subaru. As with every year, I was disappointed in the turnout for Imprezas. While the STi fights to remain relevant, the tuning industry seems to be moving on. I blame Subaru for not giving the car the AYC and extra 30-50 horsepower it so deserves.

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D Language came out with a very large booth featuring their STi, Evo and 86 demo cars.

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Blitz was also on hand with a GVB STi showing off some of their latest electronics and performance parts, including this 6-pot brake kit.

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Despite filing for bankruptcy in 2012, Zero/Sports was on hand with a GVB STi. They’re hardly the dominant force they once were at TAS.

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I’ll end with this truly awesome looking wide body GVB STi from Varis. This kit has kind of gone under the radar with all the attention on the 86.

That about does it for TAS coverage on A Class. If anything else exciting comes my way, I’ll be sure to post it. Overall I’m disappointed by this year’s show. There’s a real lack of variety right now in the Japanese tuning industry. I suppose it’s been a long time coming. With major players like Honda, Mitsubishi and Mazda failing to produce exciting cars like they once did, the industry has been forced to rely on Nissan and Toyota. Subaru can be happy with their role in the 86 and their own BRZ but as the Impreza continues to get heavier and slower, we may see another great fall by the wayside. On the bright side, the amazing reception the 86 has gotten has shown other manufacturers what’s possible. Hopefully in the next few years we’ll see more of the affordable, fun cars the Japanese automotive industry so desperately needs.

Photos courtesy of GTNET.

Back In Action?

What’s the deal with the Cyber Evo? The iconic car was retired last year after being the undisputed Time Attack king. However, we were all thrown a curve ball when a wildly different looking Evo IX was seen at the World Time Attack Challenge earlier this summer.

The car bore the name but resembled little else from its original performance and appearance.

At Tokyo Auto Salon Team Cyber announced a new partnership with C-West and their Cyber GT-R project. But what about Voltex? Surely Team Cyber wouldn’t part ways with the aero parts designer that made them famous? Their lack of involvement in the “new” car seems very strange.

Maybe I’m creating a story where there is none, but I’m genuinely interested in what happened. If I know anything about Japanese tuning shops it’s that they’re hardly how they appear on the surface and there’s always some kind of drama going on.

Varis Evos

As you might have known, I’m a Varis fan. I like to check up on their blog and see what their latest projects are. They do just about everything and do it well. I’ve personally never owned any of their products, but I used to work closely with them and the quality speaks for itself.

I’ve always liked their Evo demo cars, they have a certain je ne sais quoi.

There’s a guy in Chicago with a Varis kitted Evo X wide body. I believe it’s the only one that’s made it to the US. The car looks amazing and I don’t care if you’re a Subaru purist or not, it’s easily one of the best looking Evos in the country.

I’ve always loved the looks of this particular car. Maybe it’s the red paint or the Prodrive wheels. It’s got that great “street tuned” look that Varis does so well.

Photos courtesy of Varis.

Japanese Sports Cars: A Dying Breed?

Is Japan the car crazy country it used to be? It’s an interesting question to consider. Expensive taxes, stricter environmental regulations and a struggling economy, have forced most Japanese to reconsider their motoring needs. That coupled with a younger generation that would rather use public transportation than get a driver’s license, leaves many of us in doubt.

Mitsubishi has already called for hybrid power. The brand is working towards shifting its efforts (and image) into producing more eco-friendly vehicles. The Evo remains all but extinct in its current form.

Honda has entered the eco-performance realm with the CR-Z and rumors of the NSX followup, have claimed it too will be a hybrid, with multiple electric motors. Toyota continues to expand their Prius range and ventured into hybrid motor racing with the TS030. The car had an unsuccessful campaign at the 2012 24 Hours of Le Mans, but was successful in giving consumers a look of where the brand is headed.

Even Subaru has shifted their focus to more of a luxury market. After canceling their WRC program, the Impreza has continued to become heavier and more tame. It makes us wonder if there’s any point in having an STi at all and how long we have until it faces a similar fate to the Evo.

Today there’s been rumblings that Nissan could be reconsidering the GT-R, a car that renewed interest in a brand that had been quiet for years. Sure the Fairlady Z has always been around, but the newer iterations have never quite lived up to their ancestors. The GT-R was the car that broke the mold and showed us all where the future of performance motoring, might be headed. But now a new GT-R has yet to be approved and it begs the question of whether we could bare witness the end of an era.

However, all is not lost. Subaru and Toyota have shown us that there’s still fun to be had, with the BRZ and 86. As predicted, the collaboration has been a massive success and renewed consumer interest in compact sports coupes. It makes no claims to be anything but a driver’s car and it’s refreshing to see Japanese manufacturers having a bit of fun again. Hopefully the car’s success will inspire competitors to follow similar paths. We’ve all be waiting for the next S-Chassis and now Nissan has more of a reason than ever to meet the demand.

Eco-friendly motoring is an unstoppable force and there’s really no going back. The Japanese are at the forefront of this movement and we can only hope that exciting, affordable Japanese sports cars aren’t completely engrained into the pages of history.

Own A Super Taikyu Evo IX

If you’re looking for a used Evo, skip the Craigslist cesspool and go for this Super Taikyu Evo IX, from RS OGAWA.

The posting was on Varis’s Facebook earlier. No price is listed and it’s probably not available to customers, outside of Japan. I just think it’s awesome you can buy a Super Taikyu car and park it in your garage.

Photo courtesy of Varis.

Roll Call

Most definitely Hyper Meeting at Tsukuba Circuit. This is a great photo.

From front to back: JUN GRB STi, C-SER GRB STi, Bozz Speed Evo IX, Original Runduce Evo X, Original Runduce GRB STi, Car Station Marche GRB STi, Prova GRB STi, Zero/Sports CZS Type-Z Impreza, Sunline Racing Evo X.

I had a hard time figuring out that last car. I had seen the front bumper a few times, but couldn’t remember who made it. After some searching this morning, I discovered it’s the Syms GRB STi. Still though, 9 out of 10 ain’t bad!

360 Detail X JDMEGO

I can’t be bothered to do any more coverage on Tokyo Auto Salon. Subaru was lame this year and there’s plenty of awesome blogs giving you their actual photos from the event.

A lot of people don’t know this, but I detail cars. 360 Detail is a little side project my good friend Nat and I started a couple years ago. Nat is really the pro, I just run the Porter Cable.

This past weekend Jay hit us up to come out and do his Evo IX. I’ve been talking to Jay online for a few years and meeting him for the first time in person, was like seeing an old friend. For having been in a shop the last year, I was really impressed with the condition of the Evo. The paint was immaculate, as was the rest of the car.

This was the only decent photo I took of the car and it wasn’t even finished being cleaned. By the time we were finished, it was dark out. However, Jay posted some great shots of the car on JDMEGO yesterday. Be sure to head over there and take a look at the final product, as well as his new Voltex wing!

The Evo came out great, but that was just a bonus to the awesome day we had, talking cars and hanging out with Jay and Karen. Car people really are the best kinds of people. That’s been proven to me time and time again, with all the great friends I’ve made over the years!

While Nat and I try to get a more official e-mail address for 360 Detail going, hit me up at aclassinfo@gmail.com, if you live in SoCal and are interested in getting a quote!