Subaru BRZ Commands Brisk Sales in Japan as U.S. Debut Nears

First Up 03/29/12

March 29, 2012

Japan Automakers Ramping Up Output
According to The Wall Street Journal, Japan's three biggest automakers today reported a jump in domestic production in February, as they looked to keep up with surging demand sparked by government buying incentives for fuel-efficient cars. Toyota Motor Corp., Japan's biggest car maker by annual production volume, said its domestic output rose 22 percent to 346,215 vehicles in February from a year earlier, while Nissan Motor Co., the country's second-largest car maker, said it boosted production 20 percent to 111,786 in the same month. Honda Motor Co., Japan's third-biggest car maker, said it built 115,920 vehicles, up 65 percent from a year earlier. The sharp increase also reflects a relatively lower basis of comparison in the year-earlier month, a spokeswoman at Honda said. Among smaller Japanese car makers, Suzuki Motor Corp. posted a 3.4 percent increase in production in the home market, driven by a 12 percent rise in domestic sales. Mitsubishi Motors said its production fell 15 percent to 52,205 as domestic sales growth was offset by a drop in exports. Mazda Motor Corp. said domestic output was down 0.2 percent at 70,279 as exports declined. For more on Japanese auto output, click here.

Subaru BRZ Commands Brisk Sales in Japan as U.S. Debut Nears
Subaru’s BRZ sporty coupe, scheduled to go on sale in the United States April 20, is off to a brisk start in Japan, selling at a monthly rate quadruple initial forecasts. According to Automotive News, since the car’s Feb. 3 debut, Subaru parent Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. has sold 3,551 of the rear-wheel-drive BRZs. Subaru had forecast monthly sales of only 450 units in Japan. The sporty 2.0-liter, four-cylinder BRZ, which starts at 2.06 million yen ($24,830) in Japan for a stripped-down version, is the platform-sharing twin of Toyota’s Scion FR-S. The U.S. monthly sales goal for the BRZ is 500. Initial sales data suggest the BRZ is tapping a coveted younger customer base attracted to the car’s promise of sportier driving. So far, nearly 60 percent of BRZ customers are under 40 years of age – and two-thirds are picking the six-speed manual over the automatic transmission. The top-selling color is WR blue mica, in a nod to the signature hue of Subaru’s WRX performance line. Click here to read more about the Subaru BRZ’s sales figures in Japan ahead of its launch in U.S. showrooms.

New Technology Challenges Car Dealers – And Buyers
New cars are growing so complex – and owners manuals so voluminous – that automakers are encouraging dealers to add staff geeks or go high-tech to explain features, reports USA Today. Lexus will announce today that it is creating two new positions at each of its 230 dealers around the country: a "vehicle delivery specialist" to show buyers how the cars work during purchase and a "vehicle technology specialist" to troubleshoot snafus after the sale. The learning gap underscores how automakers have become engaged in a tech war, seeing it as a key way to make their brand stand out. Other luxury automakers, with vehicles that typically have the most complex tech systems, are coming up with their own approaches to walking customers through the nuances of infotainment, navigation, and communication systems. Infiniti salespeople use iPads to show customers technology features and coach them in their use. BMW uses a website to tell clients whether their smartphones can be paired with their cars but relies on the old-fashioned approach for the rest, making sure salespeople are fully versed on their vehicles’ electronic features. Click here for more on what dealerships are doing to help buyers understand today’s complex vehicle technology.

3 Reasons Why Toyota is on a March in North America
Just a few years ago, Toyota’s world was Total Recall – not the movie that’s being remade, but the never-ending wave of bad news about its cars. But this year, Toyota has been on an investment march, and Canada and the United States are reaping the benefits. On Wednesday, Toyota announced it will invest $80 million (Canadian) in its factory in Woodstock, Ontario, about two hours west of Toronto. The move comes not long after Toyota added jobs at its Blue Springs, Miss., plant, which builds the Corolla, bringing it up to full staff. It also is shifting production of the Highlander solely to its plant in Princeton, Ind., where it is investing $400 million and adding 400 jobs. Why is Toyota making these moves now? According to Forbes, the exchange rate plays a key role. There are also signs that consumer confidence is finally returning in the U.S., leading a number of companies and economists to raise their 2012 estimates for auto sales. Finally, Toyota is working to develop more organizational depth by empowering its operations overseas. Click here for more on Toyota’s next phase of North American growth, which is well under way.

Infiniti Gets Serious About Hybrid Cars
Infiniti plans to lift the covers off Japan’s first battery-electric luxury car during the upcoming New York Auto Show, reports MSNBC. Company executives suggest they expect some serious sales numbers from the new model. But the real benefit is likely to come from credibility. Like its parent, Nissan Motor Co., Infiniti has been slow to embrace more conventional hybrid technology. Infiniti is hoping to use the battery car, which shares the basic underpinnings of the Nissan Leaf, to position itself as a legitimate player in the global luxury market. If the battery car is intended to put a halo around the brand, the JX is designed to put butts in seats, as industry marketers like to say. The 3-row, 7-seat CUV fills a big gap between the smaller, sportier FX and the mammoth and costly Infiniti QX. “We were underserving the market . . . and losing people,” acknowledges Sean McNamara, Infiniti’s senior manager of product planning. “The Infiniti design language is finally coming into its own,” says analyst Aaron Bragman of HIS Automotive, “and we’re finally seeing the differentiation between Infiniti and Nissan products.” For the latest on Infiniti’s move into hybrids, and the revamping of its lineup, click here.

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