Decreasing auto sales in Japan, combined with new laws targeting elderly drivers and other efforts to prevent pensioners from driving, are making it more difficult for auto manufacturers facing a different demographic future.
Newsweek reports automobile sales in Japan have been declining steadily over time. It says aside from minicars and luxury foreign brands, sales of all other types of vehicles are decreasing. Newsweek details a number of factors for the developing disinterest in car ownership.
A 2007 report by the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association includes data about the vehicle preferences of people aged 50 years or older. According to the report, “a large number of respondents in this category said they wanted to curb car-purchasing and other car-related expenditures. However, among goods and services they wished to purchase with their retirement benefits, ‘automobiles’ ranked fourth among a total of 19 items.” The research also showed people are keeping their cars longer.
To counter the continuing sales decline in Japan, car makers have been improving marketing strategies. Toyota’s Gazoo website features “Drive Dates” hosted by cute female “idols”. Toyota also developed, built and operates the Tressa Automall near Yokohama.
Meanwhile, Tokyo city government has been working to get senior citizens to stop driving. Tocho is so concerned about the increasing number of automobile accidents caused by elderly drivers, it is offering incentives to persuade golden agers to quit driving.
An April 2008 JAMA report shows the number of road accidents caused by people age 65 or older, which resulted in injury or death, more than doubled over the past decade, rising from 49,555 incidents in 1997 to 102,961 in 2007. It says the National Police Agency reports there are 11.07 million licensed drivers 65 or older.
Also in April, 2008, the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department began a campaign to persuade senior citizens to voluntarily surrender their driving licenses. In exchange for their license, the recipient will be given a “Certificate of driving experience,” which is valid for discounts on services, at health care providers, and at stores, restaurants and hotels. Participating companies include:
A revised national law that went into effect June 1, 2008, requires people age 75 and older to display a government-issued sticker on the rear of their vehicle.
Drivers failing to display the orange and yellow “momiji” (maple tree) teardrop-shaped sticker will be penalized one point on their license and fined 4,000 yen each time when caught without the sticker. Operators of other vehicles are obliged to give more consideration to cars displaying the momiji sticker, and face a 6,000 yen fine for not doing so.
Due to controversy over the momiji mark requirement, the NPA has instructed police forces across Japan to not fine drivers they catch without the sticker. Instead, guidance on the new rules will be offered. The NPA will re-examine the issue in June 2009.