As bad as things may seem right now, we know they're likely to improve. America's economy will eventually rebound, Detroit will make itself presentable, and we'll find something new to worry about.
Japan is facing a different problem--or at least its automakers are. Yeah, sure, they're dealing with a host of economic issues, and sales are down, same as here. The difference here is, when things bounce back, Americans will be ready to buy cars again. The Japanese...maybe not so much.
Based on projections from the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, car sales will likely slip below 5,000,000 units in 2009, which is a low-water mark that hasn't been seen in 30 years. But beyond those numbers, there's a shift in the way that Japanese youth think about cars--namely, they don't think about them at all. Marketing analysts agree that they're more concerned with small metal object like cellphones and laptops than big metal objects with wheels.
I'm sure it's a trend that will, in part, reverse, just as the anti-materialist hippies of the 1970s gave way to the me-me-me yuppies of the 1980s. But how long will that take in a country renowned for cars reliability and hypereffient mass transit?