The news media always jumps to life at the opportunity to print an obituary. Blogs and automotive journals are no different, and there's nothing that the rags will report on with a greater sense of glee and giddiness, than the death/illness of any industry or corporation.
...So the banter lately surrounds the Japanese auto industry as a whole, and it seems like every blog out there lately revels in portraying the major Japanese companies as actors in a cheesy Godzilla movie, beset with earthquakes, floods, radioactive waste, cars that ghost drive themselves, and an economy and currency out of whack.
It's easy to agree from an enthusiast's perspective; Japan mostly ceased to make or renew interest in anything interesting to us about a decade ago. The S2000 and RX8 finally went extinct, 370z sales seem to be ironically as flat as a V8 torque curve, and focus seems to have shifted away from the Evo/Sti, with most Subie/Mitsu enthusiasts seeming to have little regard for the latest generations of their cars, and general focus seeming to go more to luxury cars more generally anyway.
Maybe I'm speaking too much from a Californian perspective but... When I was a kid/in high school, everyone wanted an Integra, an RX7, or at least a hopped up Civic would do; I was embarrassed, slightly, to be seen in my V6 Camaro, next to my friend's 300ZX, and we laughed at another friend became stuck with a Fox body 5.0. Nowadays, it seems to be the cartoonish, V8 dinosaurs that the public and youth focus has turned to, where in my youth, it seemed like the advanced, high tech Japanese sports cars were the exciting way to the future. That is, cars which are no longer made.
For all that can be said about the Japanese manufacturers losing the plot though, I'd say they have yet to offend their traditionally bland mass customer base, or entirely shatter their reputation of reliability, as the US auto industry did a couple decades back...
And yet, I rent cars. There is no longer really a performance/reliability difference between marques or countries who produce mid-sized sedans. The new Malibu actually has a very nice interior, even at the base level, and the Ford Fusion has a similar quality to it. The Altima has a giant foam block for a dashboard in comparison, and behind that, the newer Camry is absolutely geriatric from the inside in every aspect. The enthusiast appeal has been drained from Hondas, and the Civics and Accords that high school kids dreamed of fixing up just ten years ago are now regarded as allergic to tuning, and dumbed down compared to prior generations.
There are bright spots that I see; the GTR, while inaccessible and aloof from both the preceding GTRs as well as most of the rest of Nissan's lineup, offers nearly the same amount of "ultimate" as a Veyron at a not-quite ludicrous price. Infiniti's lineup seems popular enough among the set that it's aimed at, much moreso than Lexus, poor forgotten Acura (they still make cars?), Buick, or Lincoln. People seem to be able to mention Infiniti in the same breath as BMW or Benz.
I see more (quite a few, actually) Nissan Leafs (Leaves?), in far greater quantity than Chevy Volts. Perhaps this car alone shows that Japan can lead the way in the future. The Scion FR-S is coming, and while it doesn't possess as many revolutionary traits as previously influential Japanese sports cars have had historically, it is looking to be a genuine enthusiast's car.
So, is the Japanese auto exodus an illusion caused by Hyundai, China, and the flock to developing markets flailing their arms and tooting horns to distract from the substance that a wounded Japan can still offer?Or has Japan, as some claim, grown ineffective and complacent, resting on their laurels while the US companies become less horrible and creep upward?
Is making basic, boring, dumbed down transportation actually the clever and correct strategy for these times, that will allow them to ride things out and unleash something big when the public is ready?
Despite all the chatter, no Japanese manufacturer, at least, is actually teetering on the brink of existence (see current Saab, British Leyland, GM and Chrysler on a few occasions). But having had their turn at three decades of domination...
Will all Japanese cars soon be "nostalgic"? Or just the cool ones? Or will things just go back to "normal" in the next year or so, as GM falls flat on its face, like it tends to.
Predictions! I thought this might be a good and relevant topic for discussion among my automotive peers
A few observations and questions that have been keeping me up at night lately, lol.