Curbside Comparison:  Which Foreign Car Brand is Most Popular in Japan?

I’ve noticed a change here on the ground in Japan.  Going back to the late aughts (2008-2012), I can remember seeing a BMW 3-series on almost every street corner here in Tokyo – they were ubiquitous.  But I’ve seen less of them over the past several years.  What I have been seeing though are lots more three-pointed stars – mostly A, B, C-class and SUVs.  I decided to check the numbers to see if my observations were accurate or bogus.  Fortunately the Japan Automotive Importers Association keeps loads of statistics – here’s what they say…

For model years 2007, 2009, and 2010, BMW was the No. 2 most popular foreign car brand in Japan (behind VW).  However, starting in 2015, MB surpassed both BMW and VW to claim the top spot – and it has remained there ever since.

The latest figures for the first nine months of 2022 show MB number one with 16% of the imported market (36.2K), VW second with 10.2% (23.3K), and BMW third at 9.7% (22K).   As an aside, the first US car brand is Jeep in eleventh place with 3.4% (7.6K).

Talking to my Japanese car buds, they say that all the European brands still carry a lot of cachet and status with consumers here, and currently MB is seen as “more prestigious” than BMW.   The BMW “Driver’s car” image seems to have taken a hit also.  I guess my unscientific observations were correct.





Just for info, the most popular car in Japan for Jan-Sep 2022 remains the Honda N-Box (kei) (151K), followed by the Daihatsu Hijet (kei) (131K), with the Toyota Yaris  coming in third (130K).  The N-Box has been the most popular car in Japan for the past several years.  The Hijet can be had in both pickup and van styles, and is popular with regular consumers and as a commercial work vehicle.

More detailed stats are located here for those interested.