TOKYO -- The record March 11 earthquake in Japan had an unexpected side effect for BMW AG dealer Jun Kubota: His showroom in central Tokyo had its best April in at least three years.
Kubota wasn't alone. Across the country, as Japanese carmakers reeled from output disruptions following the quake, BMW deliveries surged 56 percent in April, while sales of Toyota Motor Corp.'s Lexus brand fell 45 percent. Sales of all imported foreign brands rose 21 percent even as the overall auto market shrank 47 percent.
"Customers have told me some Lexus models won't arrive until November," said Kubota, sales manager at the BMW dealership in Tokyo's Aoyama district. "So we're hearing some people say, 'You know, I've always wanted to try a BMW.'"
A shortage of cars built in Japan will increase the market share of imports, which made up 180,255 units, or just 4 percent, of local passenger-car sales last year, said Nicholas Speeks, president of Mercedes-Benz Japan Co.
Damage to parts makers from the disaster forced domestic automakers to produce at half of planned levels, causing delivery delays of as long as a year for some models. ''Imported foreign brands are offering sales campaigns, while domestic automakers are advertising less due to lack of inventories'' this year, said Takeshi Miyao, an analyst at consulting company Carnorama in Tokyo.
BMW 5 series
Sales at the Aoyama Square showroom rose about 30 percent in both April and May from a year earlier, helped by buyers of 5-series sedans who originally set out to buy Lexus GS or IS models, Kubota said.
Luxury brands including BMW, Volkswagen AG's Audi and Daimler AG's Mercedes-Benz have traditionally dominated Japan's import car sales, making up about half the market. General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler, the three largest U.S. automakers, sold a combined 7,500 cars in Japan last year, accounting for less than 1 percent of the overall market. Japan's auto market, the world's third-largest, totaled 4.96 million units in 2010.
Toyota, which sells a third of all passenger cars in Japan, said last month its new Prius alpha wagon may not reach dealers until next April. The automaker said its plants will run at 90 percent of normal production levels this month, the company said June 1, after operating at 50 percent in April and May. Toyota expects global production to normalize by November or December.