Every month, we run stories that take a look at the state of the auto market. While there are ups and downs – and even a few surprises every now and again, the American auto market is pretty static. The Ford F-150 comfortably tops the list month after month, followed by the Chevy Silverado, and the Dodge Ram. The Camry dominates the sedan market, and the rest of the top ten is rounded out by midsize sedans, and a few crossover SUVs thrown in for good measure.
Looking at May’s list of best-selling cars, six of the 10 most popular models sold here are Japanese, with the Ford Fusion as the only other American model besides the pickups to crack the top 10. This led us to wonder, what are the best-selling cars in Japan? Is there much crossover with the American market? How different can it be?
The short answer, is very. Looking at Japanese auto sales in the first quarter of 2015, a picture of a very different auto market begins to emerge. First, comparing Japan and the U.S. based on sales is like comparing apples to oranges. Japan ranks behind China, the U.S., and all of Europe in number of cars sold annually, and its market is roughly 25% the size of the American market. Pickup trucks and midsize sedans are a non-entity, and minivans still have a dedicated market share. While one car makes the top 10 in both countries (the Toyota Corolla), the majority of Japan’s best-sellers are also available stateside, albeit with some wearing different names. Through March 2015, here are the 10 best-selling vehicles in Japan.
10. Nissan Serena
As Toyota’s biggest MPV competitor, Nissan’s Serena could be even boxier than the Voxy. Like the Toyota, it can seat up to eight people, and its cavernous interior makes it one of Japan’s most popular people movers. The Serena sold a strong 21,612 units through March.
9. Toyota Vitz
In its home market, the Toyota Yaris is known as the Toyota Vitz, and it’s one of the most popular cars on the market. Compared to America, where Toyota has sold a paltry 9,878 examples of its subcompact through May, Japanese buyers took home 22,765 of the cars in the first three months of 2015 alone.
8. Honda Vezel
Since its debut in 2013, the Vezel has been a huge success for Honda. Slotting in just below the midsize CR-V, the Vezel’s combination of size and good looks help to make it Japan’s best-selling crossover, with 23,591 sold through March. If the Vezel looks familiar to you, that’s because it just launched in the U.S. as the HR-V.
7. Toyota Corolla
Toyota’s bigger Camry may rule the roost in America, but for decades, Japan’s sedan of choice has been the Corolla. In fact, the compact sedans are so popular in their home country that they have their own separate dealerships. Through March, 24,394 people visited their local “Toyota Corolla Store” and took one home.
6. Toyota Voxy
The best-selling vehicle in Japan’s popular MPV segment, the Voxy is a compact people mover that seats up to eight. Along with the nearly-identical Toyota Noah and Esquire, Toyota’s three mid-level MPVs are among some of the most popular models in Asia. Through March, Toyota moved 25,194 Voxys in Japan alone.
5. Mazda Demio
Benefitting from a major redesign for 2015, the Demio could be the best looking subcompact in the world. Unfortunately, the Demio, known as the Mazda2 in the U.S., was discontinued before its new baby Mazda3 styling could make it stateside. The Japanese market has responded well to the new Demio, snapping up 26,826 of them through March. As a consolation prize, we will be getting a version of the Demio later this summer in the form of the Scion iA, albeit with a wonky restyled front end, and sold through Toyota dealerships.
4. Nissan Note
The Note five-door hatch is another car we get stateside that does under a different name. Introduced here in 2014 as the Versa Note, and packaged alongside the Versa sedan, it’s a respectable little car that manages to hold its own in the flooded American subcompact segment. In Japan, the Note is a much bigger deal, and buyers took home 34,411 of them in the first three months of the year.
3. Honda Fit
Since its introduction nearly 15 years ago, the Honda Fit has consistently been one of the best automotive values in the world. Far from being a dreary penalty box, the Fit is compact, affordable, and reliable, but it’s also surprisingly spacious and fun to drive. A recent facelift has made the Fit even more of a standout in the subcompact market, and American buyers have responded by taking home 30,965 of them through May. That’s nothing compared to Japan, where buyers snatched up 40,688 of them through March.
2. Toyota Prius
The Prius has long been the best-selling hybrid in the U.S., but its American success is nothing compared to its level of ubiquity in Japan. In May, the Prius was the 46th best-selling car in America, with 47,040 cars sold through the end of that month. In Japan, Toyota sold 42,933 of them in the first three months of 2015 alone.
1. Toyota Aqua
If Japan’s best-selling Toyota Aqua looks familiar to you, that’s because we have it here as the Prius c. In America, Toyota’s entry-level hybrid doesn’t make much of a dent in the market – it’s sold 16,165 of them in the U.S. through May. But in Japan, the Aqua is considered to be the most successful model launched in the past 20 years. In the first three months of 2015 alone, Japanese buyers took home 64,667 Aquas.
MPVs aside, every other car on this list will be available in America by the end of the year. And while there are still plenty of Japanese models we don’t see, it’s a testament to just how globalized the auto market has become. We may be able to easily buy a Toyota Prius c, or a Honda HR-V at any American dealership, but the level of success these models enjoy in their home market shows just how different the Japanese auto market is from ours.