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Which Auto Manufacturers Will Benefit Most From Japan’s Loss?

2011 Chevrolet Cruze

2011 Chevrolet Cruze

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Carmakers from around the world are eyeing traditional import markets in the U.S. now that Toyota and Honda vehicles are in short supply after the recent earthquake in Japan. The question is which auto manufacturers will pick up new business—and how much business is there for the taking—in the wake of the March 11 natural disasters.

The numbers game

The research firm A.T. Kearney has put potential numbers on just how many import car buyers are up for grabs in the coming months. In a recent article in AutoWeek, Kearney said that 197,000 car buyers who normally purchase from Japanese carmakers could be won over by other manufacturers through the summer months. The research firm said that if Japanese factories are slow to restart, that figure could be as high as 328,000.

How do the Big 3 U.S. car makers stack up? The article reported that in April, General Motors saw 53 percent of Chevrolet Cruze buyers trade-in non-U.S. vehicles. Were these buyers simply not able to find the Honda or Toyota vehicles they really wanted and chose the Cruze instead? We’ll probably never know the answer.

However, Ford is hoping its restyled Focus will draw traditional Japanese buyers. The new Chrysler 200 is another vehicle that hopes to fare well in the coming months as it vies for its share of the traditional Japan-built market that is temporarily up for grabs.

A new winner

The Korean auto manufacturers Hyundai and Kia are already doing well in the wake of the Japanese earthquake. These two companies are expected to pull ahead of Toyota and Honda to be the third best-selling brand in the U.S. in May following General Motors and Ford.

In fact, the Hyundai/Kia combination has significantly improved its market share in the U.S. over the last year. Last May, Hyundai/Kia’s market share was 7.3 percent. It’s expected to hit almost 11 percent this month. Though Hyundai and Kia have different company structures and sales operations in the U.S., they both have the same South Korean parent company.

All we can do is wait and see how quickly Toyota and Honda recover. At the same time it will be interesting to discover which brands traditional Japanese buyers move to in the wake of current inventory shortages.


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