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Finally time for a surge of exports to Japan?

TOKYO -- The success of Nissan's new March compact in Japan is getting foreign automakers excited about the outlook for finally exporting small cars to the Land of the Rising Sun.

They've tried it before, and mostly failed.

But Nissan moved production of the redesigned March to Thailand from Japan.

And despite its overseas origins, the car is doing a booming business. Japanese orders reached 22,000 units in the two months following its July 13 launch here.

Those figures have the likes of Ford and GM rethinking their strategy in a market that has long bedeviled Detroit brands. Ford reasons that if Japanese can accept a Thai-made Nissan, why not a made-in-Thailand Ford Focus? And GM is reportedly pondering a go with the Aveo.

It would certainly have cost advantages over exporting them from the United States.

But it's important also not to underestimate Japan's loyalty to local brands, no matter where their products are made. The Nissan name and March model have a long history of trust here.

After all, the Japanese characters for “Nissan” still mean “Japan industry.”

And the numbers offer a sober reminder: Volkswagen is the best selling import brand in Japan. But Nissan is the No. 5 import seller (Nissans made abroad), and Toyota comes in at No. 7.

Ford, the top U.S. brand, captures only the 13th slot -- with meager sales of 1,977 units through August, down nearly 6 percent from the year before.

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