imomus (imomus) wrote,

Kuruma banare: post-car Japan

"JAPAN: A Post-Car Society" proclaimed Newsweek back in February. "A gadget-crazy people show no interest in new cars, dismiss the four-wheeled horse as 'so 20th century.'" For Newsweek -- and, obviously, for car manufacturers -- this is "a worrisome trend", but some of us are positively throwing our bike helmets in the air. It's about fucking time the car began to die; three fucking cheers for Japanese consumers for leading the way!

They're calling it kuruma banare, "demotorization" or "the car sales slump" or "dramatically-decreasing new car sales". Japan has become "the first major developed country where automobile ownership is shrinking". This isn't just a temporary blip, either. All the experts think car sales will never recover in Japan. In one advanced country, at least, the age of the car is starting to be over. Here are some facts, figures and stats about this joyous tidal turn:

* Demotorisation has been happening in Japan since 1990.

* According to the BBC, Japanese new car sales for May 2008 were only about half what they were in May 1990.

* In 1990 7.8 million new cars were purchased in Japan. In 2007, only 5.4 million were bought. That's a decline of 33%.

* In 2007 alone, new car sales in Japan fell by 6.7%.

* The Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association did a market study two years ago to find the reasons for the slump. They were: a widening wealth gap, falling birth rate, increasing urbanisation (Japan's excellent urban public transport means cars are really only essential in the countryside), and something cultural: a general lack of interest in cars.

* The younger Japanese consumers are, the less interested they are in having a car.

* The average age of car owners in Japan is currently 48, and rising.

* Because car insurance companies make most of their money from young drivers, and because young drivers are disappearing, car insurance premiums had to be increased this week for all drivers.

* Car insurance, taxes and parking fees in Japan are some of the highest in the world. Gas prices are rising.

* Japanese of all ages now keep their cars longer, downsize when they buy new ones, or give up car ownership altogether.

* In the first five years of this century spending on cars in Japan per household per year fell to $600. In the same period, spending on the internet and mobile phones rose to $1500 per household per year.

* "Automobiles used to represent a symbol of our status, a Western, modern lifestyle that we aspired for," Ryuichi Kitamura, a transport expert and professor at Kyoto University, told Newsweek. "For today's young people such thinking is completely gone."

* Although sales of smaller cars are slowing less rapidly, it isn't enough to compensate car manufacturers' losses.

* The decline in sales since 1990 is equivalent to one big car company like Mitsubishi or Honda being wiped out entirely.

* Sales in emerging markets like China and India are still strong, so Toyota et al won't be shutting up shop just yet.

* A mini-boom in a small market segment dedicated to luxury cars was described by J-Cast as being due to their ability "to capture the nostalgia of middle-aged people".

* The declining use of cars is already changing the shape of cities. In May this year the Japan Federation of Construction Contractors recommended that construction companies concentrate on urban developments which can be reached by public transport.

* "Having a car is so 20th century," one 34 year-old executive told Newsweek. He now rides public transport. "It's not inconvenient at all."

* The next major region forecast to experience the benefits of "dramatically-decreasing new car sales"? Europe.

* Surprisingly enough, even America may be taking the first hesitant steps to becoming a post-car society. "According to the Department of Transportation," Reuters reported, "Americans drove 11 billion miles less in March 2008 than a year earlier, the first time estimated travel on public roads fell in March since 1979. The data marks the sharpest year-on-year drop for any month in the history of the agency's reporting, which dates back to 1942."

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