When Japan went crazy

Ego is not a dirty word … Mazda’s Eunos 800-M from the days of excess.A few weeks ago we looked at the Yamaha supercar, a grand folly of bubble-economy Japan.
Nanjing Night Net

It prompted us to think about those crazy years and other machines that came out of them.

The so-called bubble lasted from 1986 until 1991, though production lead times being what they are, some of its fruit dropped from the tree slightly later (if not drowned at birth, to mix a metaphor). Corporate Japan was flush with money, some of it real, much of it a mad fiction on the back of a rigged consumer market and soaring land revaluations.

Property ”experts” calculated Japanese land was so desirable, the gardens within the walls of Tokyo’s Imperial Palace, if subdivided, would be worth as much as the entire state of California.

Tourists were gobsmacked by $10 orange juices, $300 steaks and $1000-a-song karaoke bars. And by the explosion of new car models.

Japan Inc kept most imports off its home market. It also forced locals to pay way over the odds when buying, and to replace cars frequently for ”safety reasons”.

A Toyota or Nissan cost as much (or more) there as here, despite shipping and the 35 per cent tariff we then had. This gave a kazillion yen boon to local makers, which produced a string of ridiculously extravagant jalopies, propelled as much by ego as business sense.

Lexus and Infiniti were launched, the latter helping push Nissan towards eventual bankruptcy. Mazda – already building such ludicrous domestic-only models as the triple-rotor Cosmo coupe – planned to take on the German luxury makers with the V12-equipped Amati brand. It also had the domestic Autozam, Eunos and Efini brands, and set up the M2 division to develop cool cars for cool young people.

The Autozam AZ-1 was a gullwing microcar. The Toyota Sera had butterfly doors. The Mitsubishi Emeraude a 1.6-litre V6. Bizarre retro cars such as Nissan’s Be-1 appeared with their own shops selling merchandise. Subaru built the SVX, a large and luxurious coupe that bore no relationship to any other model in its range. Mitsubishi had the 3000GT.

There were supercars, too: that Yamaha, and Dome’s equally ridiculous Jiotto Caspita.

The mad spending did have pay-offs. The Honda NS-X was at least a critical success, though not a commercial one. In any other era, the MX-5 probably would have been a simple re-bodied hatch with front-wheel-drive.

Japanese manufacturers also spent vast sums reducing the world’s tightest panel gaps by further microns, and establishing other quality benchmarks perhaps not quite as important as they seemed at the time.

We now know that Japan Inc was, in effect, propping up at least seven or eight of the nine main car companies in their inefficient, near-suicidal attempt to dominate every conceivable market sector. Plus some that were inconceivable.

Nine major makers! The Americans found it hard enough keeping three afloat.

Ironically, the bubble provoked European companies to launch ambitious model programs and quality upgrades for fear of being left behind forever by the unstoppable juggernaut that was Japan. Then, at the zenith of this frantic activity, the unstoppable juggernaut stopped. The Nikkei fell by $2 trillion and there were fire sales around the world as the Japanese tried to ditch the hotels and golf courses they’d paid way too much for.

Their car makers spent the rest of the decade furiously trimming model lines, slashing costs, merging or being bought – and at the very time the European response was starting to kick in. D’oh!

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.