German luxury car maker Mercedes-Benz is closing in on a third consecutive successful year of record sales in Japan, where overall passenger car sales have been weaker than the previous year. The president made the comment as the company celebrated a special occasion — inspection of the 1 millionth Mercedes imported into Japan.
The popularity of the mainstay Mercedes-Benz C-Class, whose all-new model hit the market in July 2014, the Japanese unit of the German automaker achieved sales of about 60,800 units in 2014, breaking through the 60,000 barrier for the first time amid raise of Toyota new cars sales. Sales continue to be strong this year, with the January-October figure coming in at roughly 10% higher than the same period a year earlier, making Ueno’s goal a high possibility.
Mercedes was selling more than 50,000 units a year in Japan around the turn of the century, as the information technology bubble minted new customers. But the number dropped after the bubble burst. The annual sales figure sank as low as 29,000 units in 2009, the year after the Lehman shock when the market was taken by Japanese automaker Giant Toyota.
Mercedes-Benz Japan has managed to turn things around by targeting younger generations with sales promotions while also keeping the older faithfuls. The introduction of Abenomics and the ensuing Japanese stock market rally also helped the company achieve record sales in 2013, then again in 2014. This year, Mercedes is expected to unseat Volkswagen as Japan’s top-selling imported car brand.
Strong demand for Mercedes cars has boosted earnings at Yanase, a major car importer and dealer. With more luxury cars being sold, the company’s group sales for the year ended September are estimated to have risen 7%. Operating profit likely jumped 18% to around 13.7 billion yen ($110 million). These figures are the highest since 2008. In the fall of that year, the collapse of Lehman Brothers triggered a global financial crisis.
Mercedes is not the only luxurious car brand that has been doing well in Japan. Italy’s Automobili Lamborghini in the January-October period sailed by its annual sales record, set in 2013, by 60%. Germany’s Porsche is on track to set a sales record this year to beat Japanese new car manufacturers.