TOKYO -- Selling General Motors' U.S.-built vehicles in Japan has never been easy and these days it is harder than ever.
GM's lineup here is paltry and its lackluster brand images were further tarnished by the company's bankruptcy in 2009 and recalls this year.
Sales of GM vehicles in the country remain microscopic. Even Japan's oldest and biggest GM dealer, Yanase & Co., says sentimentality is the only reason it hasn't dumped its perennially loss-making Chevrolet and Cadillac business.
"The real reason is sentiment, nostalgia. That's all," says Yanase CEO Takeyoshi Ide, whose dealership group started importing Buicks and Cadillacs in 1915. Sentiment, and one more flickering hope: "the small expectation that GM will be back."
GM has a long way to claw back. Sales here peaked at 47,000 vehicles in 1996, including Opel, but plummeted to 700 by 2009. Last year, they notched 1,200, and volume is expected to stay flat in 2014.
At the peak, Yanase had 114 GM outlets. It now has just 13.
Yanase doesn't need GM. Yanase is also Japan's No. 1 Mercedes-Benz dealer and one of its biggest Audi and BMW retailers. Yanase may account for nearly half of all GM products sold in Japan, but GM chips in only 1.4 percent of Yanase's volume.