Why Japan will take over the auto world

Japan does not make the best cars in the world. Japan does not make the fastest, the most sporting, the largest or the most innovative cars in the world either, but Japanese cars have something that puts them way in front, in the mind of the motoring public. Customer satisfaction.

Honda Jazz

The latest figures from Europe, for example, are very telling. From the customer satisfaction viewpoint the best small car was the Honda Jazz. Lower-medium car was the Toyota Corolla. The upper-medium bracket was the Toyota Avensis. SUV went to Toyota’s RAV4. MPV section was won by Mazda’s Premacy, while the only two European manufacturers listed were the Peugeot 607 for the executive/luxury group and Porsche with its 911 in the sports car category.

That should be enough to make the European car makers sit up, but even sitting bolt upright in their seats, it is already too late. World number 1, General Motors’ European operations is on the way to a 6th consecutive trading loss. Volkswagen, that incredible post-war success story, is going downwards as well, with its sales shrinking 4 percent. Ford of Europe lost a cool one billion dollars last year. DaimlerChrysler has seen its market share go down as well.

By contrast, Japan (and Korea) are on the way inexorably upwards. Toyota, Mazda, Honda and Hyundai all showing positive growth in the past 12 months, with up to 30 percent increase in sales.

Needless to say the European automakers are full of tales of woe, citing high wages and similar smokescreens. If high wages were just it, the local European product should be screwed together even better than the Asian autos, to produce greater customer satisfaction. But they aren’t. The man in the street who buys a new car every three or four years is buying a Toyota or other Japanese car because it is perceived to be more reliable, not because it is cheaper (which it is not, in many instances).

However, the European arms of the big international firms are now finding that they are having to scale down their operations, because of the downturn in demand. This in turn is producing stoppages by the European workers, which results in stock shortages, making it even more likely that there will be a delay for which the customer will not happily wait. On the other hand, the Japanese are increasing production. There is no waiting!

In world market terms, GM is reputedly number 1, Ford is number 2 and Toyota is number 3. But if you look at annual profits, I think you will find Toyota is well ahead. The Europeans and the Americans can stop looking over their shoulders to see if the Japanese are right behind them yet. It’s too late. They’ve gone right past and are increasing their lead.

World’s largest production pick-up

Thailand has often claimed that it has the second largest pick-up market in the world, and I’m not referring to certain Bangkok bars in Patpong (or similar red light areas near you!).

International CXT

The USA may be the largest market for pick-ups, but Thailand has a very strong and solid manufacturing base for pick-ups, accounting for around 65 percent of total vehicle sales in this country. Mitsubishi were the first to start production here in any large numbers in 1995, followed by Ford/Mazda (Auto-Alliance) in 1998, Isuzu in 2002 and Toyota this year. The Chevrolet Colorado built here is exported everywhere, as will the new Toyota Vigo, and I even spotted a transporter full of “Holden” (Isuzu) pick-ups bound for Down Under going to Laem Chabang.

However, we have nothing, repeat nothing, like the newly released large pick-up in the US. Forget the Hummers, this new pick-up is enormous! This is the International Truck and Engine Corporation’s International CXT (Commercial X-treme Truck).

The International CXT is the ultimate big boy’s toy, weighing 14.7 tons, 2.7m high and 6.5m long. It is like a prime-mover, with a pick-up tray and it is made in the US at its plant in Garland, Texas. “The International CXT brings new meaning to everything is big in Texas,” said Garland Mayor Bob Day. “There is nothing on the road as bold, strong and tough as this truck, and we are delighted that International Truck and Engine Corporation will manufacture it here in Garland,” where everything is larger than life.

It can haul six tons with ease having an engine delivering 732 Nm of torque (enough to tow the Imperial Mae Ping through the Anusarn market in Chiang Mai), can seat a line-up of go-go dancers and, for kids over 20 who missed playing with Tonka trucks in the sand pit, it is the ultimate toy for extreme work and play.

The pick-up is based on a 20 ton chassis used by International for their severe service trucks used in the construction, government and waste industries, for example dump trucks and snow ploughs.

It carries three times the payload of consumer pick-up trucks, is all-wheel drive, uses air brakes for unmatched stopping ability and offers towing, dumping and tilt tray capability.

Additionally, it features a spacious interior with crew cab design that seats five and can be customized to meet owners’ specific needs - from paint colour to air seats to flat screen TVs. For example, for people who want to make a statement while driving in luxury, you can have a customized black International CXT with ghosted green flames that has a leather interior with wood grain trim, reclining captain chairs, a fold-down bench that can be used as a bed, an overhead compartment with drop-down DVD, an XM satellite premium radio system and a rear-mounted camera for increased visibility behind the vehicle.

The International CXT features the International DT 466 diesel engine with a horsepower rating of 220 hp and 732 Nm of torque. The power is transmitted through an Allison 2000 Series automatic transmission and any roughness in the ride is dampened out with an air-suspension cab.

“The International CXT is a truck for businesses that want to promote themselves as much as perform,” said Rob Swim, director, vehicle centre marketing strategy, International Truck and Engine Corporation. “While there is nothing tougher or more extreme on the market than the International CXT, it is as much a statement of success as it is performance.

“International built the CXT to make a bold statement,” said Swim. “While we have been building trucks for more than 100 years, International is a company focused on bold growth. The International CXT tangibly demonstrates our brand’s evolution by bringing customers an unmatched innovation that can drive success - on the road and in their business.”

International state that among businesses for whom the International CXT is ideal include construction, lawn care businesses, lawn and garden stores, brick or stone contractors, home builders, carpenters, landscape designers, roofers, home improvement companies, auto body repair or custom paint shops, commercial boating businesses and boat racers. Just what sort of boats do they race in Texas? The Queen Mary?

So who will be first to order one of these little gems in Thailand? The projected price I imagine will be around - wait for it - nine million baht. That would make it about half the price of a Ferrari, with a lot more chutzpah!

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week, I asked you to remember the Citroen Light 15’s. They had the gear lever protruding from the dashboard, with a kind of hairy thing either side. The Honda Stream today has a similar ungainly looking lever. Well, neither of them were the first to come out with the idea of having the gear lever in the dash, and I asked which car was the first? It was the FWD Tracta in 1927.

Citroen Light 15

So to this week. Noel Westwood and G.L. Davies circumnavigated a very large island by car in 1925. It took almost five months. What was the car?

For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email [email protected]

Good luck!