Toyota Week Postscript: 1995 – 2000 Toyota Cavalier – GM Tries To Invade The Japanese Market With A Little Help

toyota cavalier ad 02l

(Since the Toyota Cavalier isn’t a genuine Toyota, it’s probably appropriate that I forgot to run this during TW. The text is mostly from a post I did back at the other site in 2010, updated a bit and with better pictures)

It’s clear that there are lingering misunderstandings about the import of US cars to Japan. Specifically, that Japan has managed to stave off a tsunami of Chevy Cavaliers and all the other wonderful American cars that the rest off the world has been snapping up by the imposition of certain restrictions, barriers or other obstacles. It’s way time to shed a bit of light on the Toyota Cavalier and this subject of great import.

The vehicle you see above is a Toyota Cavalier. No joke! In response to concerns about the trade imbalance, and to help stave off any further US restrictions of  Japanese imports to the US (more on that later), Toyota entered into a deal to help facilitate imports of genuine made in the US Chevys and other good GM stuff of the era. Not only did Toyota offer help, advice and facilities for the cars imported (without the slightest “restrictions”, which Japan has never had in modern history) under their original US brand, but Toyota went a giant step further.

Toyota cavalier black

Toyota offered to upgrade and modify Cavaliers and sell them under the Toyota brand name. How’s that for import restrictions! Here’s some details from wikipedia:

The Toyota Cavalier featured leather-wrapped shift knob and steering wheel, wider front fenders, amber turn signals for Japanese regulations, power folding side mirrors, side turn signal repeater lights on the front fenders, and carpeting on the inside of the trunk lid. Interior seats were often flecked with color, and the rear seat had a fold-down armrest. The Toyota Cavalier was entirely produced by GM in the USA and sold from 1995–2000. 1996-2000 Toyota Cavaliers came equipped with the 2.4 L LD9 engine, while the 1995 used the 2.3 L Quad 4.

The cars were carefully prepped to maximize their acceptability to the notoriously fastidious Japanese buyers. Did it work? Three guesses…

Japanese buyers found the panel gaps and general build quality well below their expectations and comfort level, and the whole Toyota Cavalier program as well as the import programs by the other Big Three were phased out, after lots of big press hoopla at the beginning.

Toyota Cavalier ad 2

Meanwhile, VW, Audi, BMW and other European premium brands have had a very successful export program to Japan for decades. Oh, one more thing:

In 1981, after tremendous pressure from President Reagan and Congress, the Japanese Automobile Industry agreed to a Voluntary Import Restriction, substantially reducing imports from Japan to the US to under 1.68 million per year. The result: content and transaction prices on all cars dramatically increased, screwing the American consumers out of untold billions.  The Japanese used the dramatically higher profits to invest in US production facilities and the expansion into luxury brands like Lexus, Acura and Infiniti. The US manufacturers squandered theirs on buying Jaguar, Saab, Volvo and stakes in Japanese companies, all of which were eventually unwound. It is considered a text book example of how markets are distorted through import restrictions, and materially contributed to the decline and crash of the US auto industry.

Want to import cars to Japan? It’s one of the easiest countries to do so. Just make sure you know the market.

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Update: Chevy should have imported Astro Vans to Japan, as they developed a very serious cult following.

AstroVan custom

Custom Astro Vans are big part of the whole tuner scene.

AstroVan crop-horz

Which of course explains the looks of the bB/xB. Hate the looks of it? Blame GM.