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In Japan, wearing the wrong shoes can end a driver's license test

08/03/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Government/Legal, Japan, Read This

Pedestians cross a street in downtown To

It's so easy to make fun of the Department of Motor Vehicles in the United States. Whenever folks return from renewing a license or getting new plates, everybody has a joke making fun of the long lines, prolonged waits or bored employees. But it looks like we in the US have it easy compared to the Japanese. Journalist Jacob M. Schlesinger recently chronicled the bureaucratic hell involved for an American to get a driver's license there on The Wall Street Journal Japan Realtime blog.

The country's government basically tries to put as many obstacles as possible between prospective drivers and a permit. If you can withstand it all, you just might be patient enough to be behind the wheel. Schlesinger claims that he had to make seven trips around Tokyo over the course of two months and pay about $600 to get ready for the driving test. These trials included getting his US license translated and a half-day of testing.

Even getting through all of that, there's still the actual in-car test to pass. The police administer it, and an officer has final say before you even get in the car. According to the writer, a policeman kicked one woman out immediately because her shoes were considered inappropriate for driving.

As if it wasn't tough enough, the writer claims that he had the easy path because he already had an American license. Read the full story at Japan Realtime to find out if Schlesinger finally got his permit.

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Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV sales reach 33,000 worldwide

07/31/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: EV/Plug-in, Hybrid, Mitsubishi, AutoblogGreen Exclusive, Europe/EU, Japan, Plug In Conference

Plug In 2014: Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

It can be difficult to see from the US, where the Mitsubishi Outlander Plug-in Hybrid is not yet available, but the all-wheel drive SUV is a big hit in Europe and Japan. In fact, we learned at the Plug In 2014 Conference in San Jose, CA this week that Mitsubishi has sold over 33,000 copies of the PHEV around the world.

The breakdown is that Mitsubishi has delivered 15,000 units in Japan and 18,000 in Europe. Fuminori Kojima, Mitsubishi Motors North America's senior manager of incentives, told AutoblogGreen that the country with the highest sales rate in Europe is Holland, with about 6,000 units sold that thanks in part to generous incentives for plug-in hybrids there. The Euro-spec version on hand in San Jose has three regen levels (the normal D mode, plus B1 and B2). We got to take a spin around the block, but the battery was mostly depleted (it was a popular attraction in the Ride & Drive) and so we were driving on gas.

In the gallery from Plug In 2014, you'll note that the Outlander PHEV requires at least 95 octane (RON) unleaded fuel, which is 91 octane (AKI) premium fuel in the US. We don' know what the US version will need, but we've heard it will be "completely different." The Outlander has a 12-kWh battery and should have an EV range of around 30 miles. Whether or not it will have a CHAdeMO fast-charging port in the US is still undecided, as is the question of whether it will have a 3.3 or 6.6 kW onboard charger.

The timeline Kojima gave for the Outlander's US arrival was October or November of 2015, since the SUV still needs to be tested and homologated for the US, Kojima said, but the real problem is that Mitsubishi can't build enough. "The battery production capacity is limited," he said. "So that's why, [the] first [focus is the] domestic market and Europe showed more demand." As as an example, he mentioned not only the incentives but also said that the charging infrastructure is more built up in Europe. "We'd like to have it [in the US ] as soon as possible, of course," he said.

According to numbers from the European group Transport And Environment (see press release and sales chart below), overall plug-in vehicle sales have been doubling each year since the new breed was introduced in 2010. Last year, almost 50,000 plug-in vehicles were sold in the EU, with the Renault Zoe EV, Outlander PHEV and Volvo V60 Plug-in at the top of the pack.

Continue reading Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV sales reach 33,000 worldwide

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Toyota's Psy-style Waku-Doki ad inherits Japan's bizarre ad crown

07/29/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Etc., Japan, Marketing/Advertising, Videos, Toyota

Screencap from Toyota's Japanese

A new Japanese Toyota ad featuring crisply suited businessmen driving into the jungle only to segue into a Psy-style music-video dance-off with a gorilla and natives is the latest car commercial to go viral. Jungle Wakudoki is the newest installment in a grand tradition of bizarre ads from the island nation that are by turns hilarious, head-scratching and occasionally even frightening.

Let's face it: My people are weird.

I'm half-Japanese and take suitable pride in my Asian roots, but even I can't figure out what's been slipped into the water coolers of the country's ad agencies much of the time - or the nation at large, for that matter. From Japan's ubiquitous obsession with all things adorable (kawaii) to its offbeat sense of humor and its bizarrely perverse and violent tentacle porn, it's clear there's a lot going on in the culture, and only some of it bubbles up to the surface in its marketing efforts. Much of the strangest and most amazing ads are for non-transportation products (e.g. laundry soap, snacks, energy drinks), but the automotive space has its fair share. This latest Toyota ad had me trawling YouTube for a common theme, trying to make sense of why these spots are the way they are. Scroll down to watch the Toyota ad in question as well as a bunch of other examples of Japan's most bizarre car-related ads and see if you can't find the thread that runs between them. Is it just that something's being lost in translation? Have your say in Comments.

Continue reading Toyota's Psy-style Waku-Doki ad inherits Japan's bizarre ad crown

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Subaru teasing new WRX S4 model ahead of Japanese debut

07/25/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Sedans/Saloons, Sports/GTs, Japan, Subaru

Subaru WRX S4 teaser

The Subaru WRX range is growing just a little bit larger, at least in Japan, with the automaker's teasing announcement of a new version called the S4. Unfortunately, the company is keeping details about its latest all-wheel drive sport sedan a closely guarded secret for the moment.

From what we can glean, it appears that the S4 might be a more luxurious take on the WRX. According to the release, the name stands for the four qualities that Subaru wants the sedan to have: "'Sports performance', 'Safety performance', 'Smart driving' and 'Sophisticated feel.'" As part of this focus, the car comes with the company's EyeSight camera system. Thankfully, we don't have too long to wait to find out what all of the buzz words actually mean because Subaru is unveiling the S4 on August 25 in Japan.

The automaker also launched a teaser website for the S4 that you can cheek out, here, but at the moment it doesn't provide any more details about the new sport sedan. The site just has countdown until the August reveal. There's also no indication yet whether this potentially more premium WRX could make it US shores. Scroll down to read the Subaru's rather concise teaser for the upcoming S4.

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Nissan Note getting a little louder with Nismo versions this fall

07/24/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Sports/GTs, Japan, Hatchbacks, Nissan

Nissan Note Nismo

Nissan's Nismo performance division has been getting more chances to shine recently with tuned models like the Juke Nismo RS and GT-R Nismo. But its latest creation moves closer to the bottom of the Japanese brand's lineup to make a hot hatch out of the (Versa) Note.

At least in Japan, the new model is due this fall, and Nismo is keeping a lot of the details about its latest creation a secret for now. What we do know is that it'll be available in two trims - the Note Nismo and the sportier Nismo S. "The development concept of this model was to build a car that makes you want to keep driving, no matter where your destination may be," said the division's chief product specialist, Hiroshi Tamura, in the company's announcement.

Aesthetically, the Note Nismo looks the way a tuned Nissan should, with the division's signature red trim outlining the car. It also wears a new, mesh grille, lower air dam, red side sills and rear spoiler. Inside, the S gets standard sport seats with full Recaro buckets as an option. Nissan didn't release technical specs for either version, but it promises that the S also gets a tuned engine with a five-speed manual.

But now, allow us to burst your bubble. Autoblog spoke to Nissan North America Product Communications Director Dan Bedore about the hot Note, and he told us, "There are no plans currently for a Nismo Versa Note in the US." That's too bad; if the specs turn out to be competitive, it could be an interesting rival for the Ford Fiesta ST. Scroll down to read the official announcement.

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Nissan's Carlos Ghosn taps the brakes on autonomous car progress

07/19/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Japan, Tech, Nissan

Nissan Leaf Autonomous Drive

"Self-driving cars remain a long way from commercial reality."

Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn shocked the automotive industry last year when he announced that his company plans to offer consumers an autonomous car by 2020. The automaker even showed off its self-driving Leaf prototype as proof. He was bolder recently with the pronouncement that select markets could have them in 2018, if laws allowed. The boss' optimism appears to be waning, though, and he's now sounding a lot more conservative about the future. While driverless vehicles are still on the way, Ghosn is hedging his bets with a more gradual implementation of several systems.

During a speech in Japan, Ghosn laid out Nissan's new roadmap toward autonomous driving. Instead of plunking down a complete vehicle in 2020, the new plan has a rollout with waves of innovations. According to Automotive News, the first milestone comes by the end of 2016 with the introduction of traffic-jam assist and fully automated parking. In 2018, some models get automatic lane changing, and finally around 2020, another feature will allow cars to handle intersections without driver inputs. All of this new tech still requires someone at the controls for most of the time.

"Self-driving cars remain a long way from commercial reality," Ghosn said in his speech, according to AN.

The latest announcement isn't quite the driving utopia that Ghosn alluded to last year. At the time, he said: "I am committing to be ready to introduce a new groundbreaking technology, Autonomous Drive, by 2020, and we are on track to realize it." Evidently, that plan may have gone a little off the rails.

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Meet the Kanjozoku, Osaka's infamous street racers

07/18/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Motorsports, Time Warp, Sports/GTs, Japan, Videos, Hatchbacks, Honda

Kanjozoku video

Street racing is obviously illegal and incredibly dangerous, but that has never stopped people from doing it. While we don't hear nearly as much about the scourge of Japanese tuner cars as when The Fast and the Furious first hit theaters over a decade ago, illegal street racing is still bubbling under the surface all over the island nation. An excellent new documentary short from Bowls Films takes a look at the Kanjozoku from Osaka, Japan; a group that claims to be partially responsible for the tuning style known as JDM.

The group gets their name from their preferred route known as the Kanjo. It's a 4.77-mile long loop of connected highways running right through the city of Osaka. You might expect a hardcore group of illegal Japanese racers to show up with highly tuned Nissan GT-R and Toyota Supra coupes, but the Kanjozoku evidently eschew all of the others in favor of one particular car that they love: the Honda Civic.

According to the video, that vehicle of choice came in part from the city's location. Osaka was relatively near the one-make Civic races held at Japan's legendary Suzuka racetrack. The hatchbacks thus became the default weapons for the Kanjozoku's street battles.

The guys interviewed for the documentary go so far as to claim that their scene created the whole concept of JDM tuning. The whole video is a really interesting portrait of an illegal racing scene crafted out of friendly competition. Scroll down for a brief look at the Kanjozoku of Osaka - it's worth it.

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How Toyota's neighbor delayed 23,000 of its deliveries

07/17/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Car Buying, Japan, Toyota

Toyota Motor Co Nagoya Port Center

Don't you just hate when your neighbors' mess becomes your problem? Toyota certainly has good reason to be upset, after an dirty mishap at a steel mill delayed thousands of vehicle exports from its nearby port in Nagoya, Japan, (pictured above) by as much as a month.

The messy situation occurred on June 22 when the mill near the port lost power and had to burn off an excess buildup of coke oven gas - which isn't exactly a situation friendly to living beings or the environment. According to Automotive News, it caused a massive amount of smoke to emit from the plant that fell as soot and tar on about 23,000 vehicles that were waiting to be shipped out. Getting the models properly cleaned off has been quite a task. A team of 5,000 workers were at the port until this week getting them gleaming again.

Potential Toyota buyers in North America have no need to fret about getting a sullied car, though. A Toyota spokesperson told Automotive News that none of the vehicles were bound for this continent. The automaker is reportedly considering asking the mill's owners for reimbursement for the cost of the weeks of cleanup. Paying for the mistake is, after all, the neighborly thing to do.

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Fukushima radiation still showing up in some Japanese cars

07/15/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Car Buying, Japan, Safety

A Nissan worker checks radiation levels

In the wake of the 2011 tsunami that caused a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan, there was a fear that radioactive cars and trucks could be bound for export. Within days of the tragedy, Nissan was already testing its vehicles' radiation levels (pictured above), and the rest of the Japanese auto industry followed soon after. However, three years after the natural disaster, it appears that some used models are still making it out and winding up on the roads in Central Asia.

Next time you take a drive in Kyrgyzstan, you might want to have a Geiger counter handy. An impound lot in the capital city of Bishkek has already amassed a collection of 70 irradiated cars, according to Autoweek. The radioactive vehicles are making into the country through dealers that purchase used models from Japan. They are then driven over the border from neighboring nations to make radiation checks less likely.

It's hardly an isolated problem for Kyrgyzstan. According to Autoweek, the Russian port at Vladivostok turned away 132 irradiated Japanese vehicles as recently as January 2014. In some cases, Japan is willing to take the models back, but Bishkek is stuck with its 70 contaminated cars to find a way of dispose of them.

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Which automaker's 84-year-old CEO is making investors nervous?

07/07/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Etc., Japan, Suzuki

Suzuki Motor Corp. Chairman Osamu Suzuki Attends Full-Year Earnings News Conference

We haven't heard much about Suzuki since it decided to leave the US market in 2012, but things are going well for the little automaker these days with the recent announcement of record annual profits. It would seem that investors should be ecstatic, but they are starting to question the man at the helm. Company president and chairman Osamu Suzuki is now 84 years old and is guaranteed at least one more year as the leader, but shareholders want to know who is taking his place when the inevitable happens.

We're not being ageist, here. As long as the Suzuki can run the company to the satisfaction of investors, he absolutely deserves the top spot. According to Bloomberg, the issue making shareholders so edgy is that the business doesn't have a transition plan in place. The president obviously isn't a young man, and folks are worried that if something happens suddenly, there could be chaos deciding a successor and a free-falling stock price.

Suzuki's tenure at the company is somewhat astounding. He married the granddaughter of the founder and took her name because the family had no male heirs. In world where many people hope to retire as soon as possible, he's worked for the same automaker for the last 50 years, including stints as company president from 1978 to 2000 and 2008 to the present. Investors aren't questioning the president's ability as a business leader; they just want a clearer understanding of the automaker's future direction.

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