Official and Gray Import Vehicles in Japanese Car Auctions

Foreign cars and some LHD Japanese cars in the Japanese car auctions are either official or gray imports.

Official Imports

If the car is an “official” import, it means that this vehicle was imported into Japan by the official dealer network. This could be the manufacturer’s own dealer network, or a Japanese car dealer (such as Yanase) designated as the official importer by the original manufacturer.

Gray Imports

If the cars is a “gray” import (literally a heiko – parallel – import in Japanese), then it was imported into Japan by an individual or a company without the blessing of the manufacturer. There are a number of reasons why a car would have been imported as a gray import:

First of all, it could be that the manufacturer did not offer that model or that particular specification in Japan. This can be the case with small-volume makers, or in the case of exotics where the European-spec (for example) may be more appealing to the customer.

The second option is that the car was brought into Japan as a used vehicle. For example, the car may have been purchased secondhand in a US Auto Auction, shipped to Japan and sold. This would often be the result of exchange rates or price differences having made that car cheaper than locally-available models at the time of import.

The next possibility is that the car is a classic. It may have been on the road for decades outside of Japan and then brought in for a collector. These are often easy to spot as the year of the car (the year of first registration in Japan) is clearly much later than the car itself could possibly have been manufactured. This is often the case with cars like American muscle cars.

Finally, the car will be a gray import if it was made by a Japanese manufacturer and sold outside of Japan and then imported. There are small numbers of these LHD cars in the auctions. These are often US models that have a particular appeal among a small niche community in Japan. This was particularly true when the Lexus brand was still not available in Japan prior to late 2005.

How can you tell if it is a gray or official import?

As a customer of Integrity Exports, you will have access to professional-quality translations of the car auction sheets. When the car is an imported model, the translator will enter this information about whether it is a gray or official import into the translation.

These are common translations you will see:

  • Official dealer RHD import
  • RHD gray import
  • Official dealer LHD import
  • LHD gray import
  • Not known if gray or official import

The latter comment is not very common, but is worth noting as sometimes the auction inspector and seller just do not have this information.

Here are some real examples from Japanese car auction inspector’s reports. First of all, this one is an LHD “gray” import:

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The following one is an “official” RHD import:

Official RHD import in a car auction in Japan

Don’t worry if you don’t read Japanese! We don’t expect you to. This is why we have staff with native-level Japanese and English fluency. It is all part of our goal to make buying from the car auctions in Japan stress-free and smooth for you.

What does this mean for Japanese car auction buyers?

So how does the gray / official import distinction affect you as a purchaser of cars from the Japanese car auctions?

Well, if the car is an official import, then you can be sure that it has only ever been driven in Japan. You can have a lot of confidence in the displayed mileage, and also know that it has almost certainly been driven with a degree of care as well as having been well maintained.

On the other hand, if the car is a gray import, then it may well have spent time on the road outside of Japan. (You will see that sellers sometimes write shinsha heiko yunyu – gray import imported as a new vehicle – but this is always crossed out by the inspection staff, as there is no way to conclusively prove this statement). If this is the case, then it is hard to be completely confident about the displayed mileage, and also the car may have received rougher treatment outside Japan than it would have from a Japanese driver.

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