TOKYO -- Most global automakers will not exhibit at the Tokyo Motor Show as they scramble to rein in costs during the global market meltdown. The miserable state of the Japanese auto market might have made that decision even easier.
Even in the best of times, Japan is hard for foreign brands to crack. In 2008, overseas brands accounted for just 4 percent of the 4.92 million light vehicles sold here.
Market share for foreign brands has slipped to 3.6 percent this year, according to JPMorgan. Sales of imports tumbled 22 percent through August, outpacing the market's 18 percent decline.
And things aren't much better for the domestic automakers.
Last year, auto sales in Japan slumped for the fourth straight year to the lowest level since 1980. Economic hard times, an aging population and increased urbanization all combined to make Japan's domestic car market an ever-shrinking pie for imports and domestics.
Among the first to pull out of the auto show were the Detroit 3, which sold fewer than 30,000 vehicles in Japan last year. They were followed quickly by Volkswagen, BMW and Mercedes.
With just weeks to go, South Korea's Hyundai Motor Co. stunned show organizers by dropping out.
Hyundai's exit leaves just two minor foreign carmakers at the event: German boutique manufacturer Alpina Burkard Bovensiepen and British sports car maker Lotus.
Exhibits are expensive, and even some Japanese manufacturers had proposed that this year's event be canceled because of the slumping economy. But the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, which runs the biennial show, went ahead.
This year there will be only 11 passenger-car exhibitors, compared with 35 at the last show in 2007.
"The scale of our show is below half of the 2007 edition," says Toyokazu Ishida, assistant director general of show at the Japanese auto trade group. "But the number of world premieres is expected to amount to 39 vehicles. We believe that this number is not so bad."