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Daihatsu’s Position as Japan’s Top Minicar Seller under Threat

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A Daihatsu Motor Co. dealership is seen in Ikeda, Osaka Prefecture.

Changes are likely to occur in the domestic minicar market after Daihatsu Motor Co. suspended shipments of its car models following revelations that it had falsified vehicle-safety tests.

Daihatsu has long been Japan’s top minicar seller, but its market may diminish due to recent developments.

Loss of customers

“It’s a pity, as we have been selling Daihatsu models with confidence and trust due to the company being a member of the world-renowned Toyota Motor Corp. group,” said the head of an Osaka Prefecture distributor that has dealt with Daihatsu cars for around 50 years.

Regular dealers specialize in selling new vehicles of a particular automaker, while distributors — often comprising repair shops and used car dealers — sell new vehicles purchased from the dealers.

The Osaka distributor began fielding inquiries from concerned customers after Daihatsu announced on Dec. 20 that it had identified irregularities relating to 64 models. In one case, the distributor had delivered a Suzuki Motor Corp. vehicle to a customer who was expecting to receive a Daihatsu car.

As of April, Daihatsu had 58 dealers with 778 outlets and had ties with almost 30,000 distributors. If the shipment suspension drags on, some distributors that handle vehicles from various automakers will likely give Daihatsu the cold shoulder.

A Honda Motor Co. dealership in Gunma Prefecture said it had been contacted by a customer who was keen for a safety check to be carried out on their Daihatsu vehicle.

17 dominant years

In Japan, demand for minicars — traditionally known for their maneuverability and ease of use — has remained strong, accounting for nearly 40% of new car sales.

Daihatsu has long been the market leader, selling about 560,000 units domestically in fiscal 2022 when it had a 33.4% slice of the market, ahead of Suzuki (30.5%) and Honda (17.6%). Daihatsu has maintained its top place for 17 consecutive years since fiscal 2006.

The firm’s latest sales figures were robust. On Wednesday, Daihatsu announced that it had sold 552,352 units in Japan between January and November, marking a 4.8% increase over the same period last year.

According to data compiled by the Japan Light Motor Vehicle and Motorcycle Association, Daihatsu’s Tanto and Move models ranked second and fifth, respectively, in terms of sales volumes.

However, shipments of 27 models, including popular models and various vehicles supplied to Toyota and other companies, were suspended. The impact of this move is expected to be reflected in sales figures.

Mitsubishi Motors Corp., which was found to have faked fuel-economy data in 2016, saw sales of its minicars drop nearly 20% year-on-year. The company’s business performance took a battering, and the MMC president resigned to take responsibility. To help rebuild its business, the company was brought under the umbrella of Nissan Motor Co.

“There are many Daihatsu models that are superior in terms of features and prices,” said a representative of a Daihatsu competitor. “Consumers won’t make immediate moves to change their vehicle brand.”

Another rival firm said the latest incident allowed it to convey the appeal of its products.

Daihatsu’s shipment suspension is expected to last at least until the end of January, and it will likely prove difficult for Daihatsu to make up for its drop in sales during the suspension period.

Tokyo Auto Salon

Daihatsu has decided not to attend Tokyo Auto Salon, one of the world’s largest exhibitions for custom-made cars, set to be held at the Makuhari Messe convention center in Chiba from Jan. 12 to 14, according to sources. The company is not expected to participate in exhibitions until it resolves its problems.

Tokyo Auto Salon was inaugurated in 1983 as the Tokyo Exciting Car Show, and Daihatsu exhibited a wide variety of models there — including sports cars and vans — with the aim of broadening its fan base by highlighting the appeal of custom-made minicars.

However, the company pulled out of the 2023 Fukuoka Mobility Show, a large-scale event featuring prototypes and new models at Marine Messe Fukuoka in Fukuoka that ran from Dec. 22 to 25.

“It’s difficult to participate in exhibition events under the current circumstances, in which instances of fraud have been detected and our shipments have been suspended,” said a Daihatsu public relations official.