Driving Forward in the Japanese Market
by Victoria Hall
For many expatriates in Japan, the prospect of finding a suitable car can be a daunting one. Furthermore, finding a dealership that can guide you through the entire search and purchase process with native-level English is half the battle.
Customers looking into buying a premium brand car expect premium service and it is not hard to see why some dealerships have been quick to respond by advertising their ability to cater for the foreign community. One such organization active in the local market and well-known for its wide array of programs is Roppongi-based Volvo Cars International. Weekender caught up with Volvo’s Steven Wanchap to find out more about Volvo and how they are appealing to the foreign community in Japan.
Tell us a little about Volvo cars Japan.
Volvo have been selling cars in Japan as early as the 1960s through a subsidiary of Yanase, but was officially established as Volvo Cars Japan in 1986 as a 100 percent subsidiary of Volvo Car Corporation based in Gothenburg, Sweden. In 1999, Volvo Car Corporation was acquired by Ford Motor Company and placed within its Premier Automotive Group, which also currently includes Jaguar and Land Rover. With the Japan headquarters based in Kamiyacho, Volvo has an extensive nationwide dealership network employing approximately 400 people in total.
How have you changed your business model to adapt to the Japanese market?
As a premium import brand, local consumers are highly demanding and have high expectations of after-sales care, more so than the European market, for example. Consequently, we have put a lot of our energy into building strong dealership networks to ensure our customers are treated with the high levels of service associated with any premium purchase. Our approach to marketing the brand has also needed some adjustment as local consumers tend to respond more positively to clearer and less layered messaging across the range of advertising media. Use of irony to express the merits of our product is generally less common than can be seen in our other markets.
What difference in trends have you experienced in Japan in comparison to Europe and the US?
Generally speaking, we are finding an overall increase with the low-end car market in Japan, that is, smaller and more affordable cars. The current economic climate has also resulted in a weakening of the mid car market and it can also be argued that there is less interest in the car market overall.
What challenges have you faced in the Japanese market?
I think fi rst and foremost, breaking into the Japanese market initially and maintaining profitability has been our greatest challenge, and also keeping in mind the points I raised earlier. For the future, I think it is important we continue to maintain our strong identity as the leader in automotive passenger safety and continue providing quality cars with the high levels of after-sales care. We also recognise the need to appeal to a much wider audience, especially the younger Japanese consumer, and with the environment issue being such a hot topic at present the development of Hybrid and/or Diesel technology is ever more relevant.
What services do you offer the foreign community who are living in Japan?
The Volvo Cars Roppongi branch offer expats and Diplomats a fully English service, providing English brochures with translated price and option lists. English navigation systems can be installed in all cars with handy tuition on its operation. Also, insurance can be arranged at the customers’ request, with all paperwork being handled by the dealership. Service scheduling and maintenance issues are all handled in English at the dealership which boasts its own workshop.
Expats who are getting ready to leave can benefit from ordering factory priced Volvos and depending on their situation stand to make signifi cant savings. The International Sales Programs cater mainly for US, UK and European expatriates, allowing them to have a custom ordered Volvo delivered to a desired dealership and includes all the shipping costs.
There is also the “Carnet de Passages en Douane” system, which enables some European expats to purchase a Volvo, ordered to match their home country’s technical requirements, drive it in Japan and then ship the car back home with tax exemption. Again, the savings here can be very substantial.
All in all, it seems that Volvo are able to cater for a wide range of customer needs and have years of experience in handling each program. Every car is backed by a generous warranty and most importantly, provide great after sales care.