TOKYO - BMW Japan will sell five of its 13 Tokyo-area outlets to Yanase & Co., the import powerhouse that also sells Mercedes, Audi, Smart, Opel, Cadillac, Chevrolet and Saab vehicles in Japan.
The sale gives Yanase its first BMW franchise. The company says it also plans to set up three BMW outlets in southern Tokyo areas that are open points in BMW's Japan sales network.
It also will negotiate with BMW Japan over setting up stores in some of BMW's roughly 20 other open points across Japan.
"It's about filling open points," says BMW Japan President Ludwig Willisch. "We're very good at building cars. We're not the best retailer."
All of the Yanase-owned BMW stores will become part of Yanase Bayern Motors Corp., a wholly owned subsidiary that will begin operations April 1. Terms of the purchase of the existing outlets still are being negotiated, the two sides say.
Financially troubled Yanase was once Japan's premier car importer. In addition to its current brands, it sold at one time or another cars from Renault, Volkswagen and Buick. Buick cars no longer are sold in Japan.
Yanase has exited the car-import business and is focusing on retailing. "We want to be a megadealer," says Yanase President Takahiro Inoue.
The company has been closing outlets and trimming staff to reduce costs after three straight money-losing years. It also recapitalized in a move that increased the stake held by trading house Itochu Corp. to about 13 percent, while cutting the stake held by the founding Yanase family to under 10 percent from more than 33 percent.
Inoue says BMW Japan approached Yanase last year about selling BMWs. The other foreign carmakers whose brands Yanase sells have signed off on the latest tie-up. "We've reported this already to them and gotten their consent," Inoue says.
Although Inoue and Willisch say the two companies still were negotiating a number of possibilities in terms of future BMW stores, Inoue says there have been no discussions about Yanase selling Rolls-Royce cars.