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Japan shows Jeep dealers the future?

by Chris Vander Doelen on

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Japan – allegedly the world’s most notoriously closed automotive market – has suddenly decided it likes Jeeps. Or is it that Jeep has cracked the secret to getting the finicky Japanese consumer into their showrooms?

Either way, Jeep dealers in Japan have found a way to boost sales from less than 1,000 units a year a decade ago to a projected total of 8,000 or more units this year.

if that doesn’t sound like many, it’s 17 times more Jeeps than GM can sell Chevrolets in Japan. Or Cadillacs. Ford has given up on the country altogether, relegating Japan to the same category the French car companies have long put the USA: uncrackable.

Those rising sales figures still leave Jeep as the No. 7 team in a league of foreigners in Japan, behind mostly European squads. But they’ve been gaining every year since taking a new approach to sales about eight years ago.

The key appears to be installing creature comforts in dealerships for both customers and staff, according to the Automotive News. That, and cashing in on an extremely strong brand that oozes exotic cool to younger consumers even if they live halfway around the world.

That brand, of course, makes Jeep the most valuable part of the Fiat Chrysler Automotive empire, and one of the reasons the financial press can’t stop drooling about a potential merger or a takeover or a sale of just Jeep.

But back to solving the uncrackable market: cater to national needs by making all models available as right-hand drive. Add foldable mirrors for tight spots, and Japanese nav maps installed at the factory.

Put a waitress in the showrooms to take drink orders from customers while they shop. Lose any kitchy Amurrican stuff on the showroom walls – the locals already know where Jeeps come from, and don’t need a Statue of Liberty to remind them. And make sure the service bays are heated and have AC or the techs will walk, because they’re a tough hire in Japan.

Last but perhaps by far the least, have the sales people handle service interactions with the buyers, post-sale. That one might be difficult to export, given ingrained dealership cultures. But name another brand that’s seen an 800 per cent increase in sales anywhere, let alone the world’s third-largest, and arguably toughest, automotive market.

Chris Vander Doelen was Opinion Editor and columnist of The Windsor Star until December, 2016; he was the Star's automotive reporter and columnist for seven years, and had also covered the political and gambling beats. With his wife, Veronique Mandal, he wrote the book Chasing Lightning (1999). Chris won a National Newspaper Award in 1997 and more than a dozen provincial news awards. There is a Chrysler 300 in his driveway.

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