After a break of 5 years, Ford yesterday launched the new Explorer in Japan. It seems like an odd time to introduce a thirsty SUV to a market that is becoming increasingly conservative and focused on energy efficiency.Of all the models that Ford could have chosen, the Explorer seems to make little sense. Surely something smaller – like the new energy-efficient Fiesta – or something more European in style, such as the Focus, would work better.
The thing is that Ford is stuck: To make money in Japan, they need to be able to charge a premium, but their brand in general, and individual models in particular, just do not have that kind of clear brand image. If a Japanese consumer wants bland, then they have an overwhelming choice of cheaper, home-grown models available. On the other hand, sales for brands with particularly strong identities – such as VW, BMW and Mini – are doing relatively well.
Sales of import cars rose by 22% in April, bucking the trend of new car sales in Japan that month, which tanked as a result of the effects of the earthquake disaster in March. On the other hand, Ford only managed to sell 186 of these, and its sales only rose by 1.8%, so something is going wrong here. It really makes you wonder why Ford don’t just simply abandon their official dealer operation in Japan and hand the keys over to a high-profile private importer like Yanase.
Source: WSJ (Japanese-language)