Like many aspects of the Japanese enigma, the Japanese RVing Industry is one that has been hidden behind a vail created by distinctive market demands, unique base vehicles, limited interested from foreign manufactures and of course cultural and language barriers. In the meantime, the market and its manufacturers have been experiencing steadily growth while collectively working to educate the 126 million population about the joys of RV travel. With one of the most extensive public transportation systems in the world that counts delays in seconds and a work culture that for many years looked down on taking holidays due to the risk of inconveniencing co-workers with extra workloads, convincing the population to take extended vacations by driving long distances in an RV has been a tough sell. Nevertheless, with an aging population, which has been working and saving all their lives to enjoy retirement plus young adults, who no longer enshrined by the safety of lifetime employment are starting to reevaluate their life values, a significant increase of interest in domestic leisure activities has been developing and RVing is seen as one of these activities or a medium to comfortably get to the desired destination.
The Japan RV market
To put the market in a more figure-based perspective, the Japanese RV Association (JRVA) has existed for 26 years with the oldest of the 70 vehicle manufacturing members approaching or already celebrating their 30-year foundation anniversaries. The association and its members have grown from relatively obscure entities to ones that are getting more and more recognition from the mainstream media and the public. At the moment the association has 138 members split between vehicle manufacturers, dealers and parts suppliers. With a limited budget for large scale promotion activities, JRVA has focused on preparing and promoting the RVing lifestyle through the various end-user focused shows which take place at a neck-breaking pace in all the key cities around Japan starting with the Japan Camping Car Show hosted in first days of February at the Makuhari Messe in Tokyo Greater Area. The market figures for 2019 are still being analyzed by JRVA and will not be available till early summer; however, the total number of vehicles should tally up around the high 5,000 units across the segments. This will represent a modest increase in the figures compared to previous years. The number of vehicles registered in the field is roughly estimated at having surpassed 100,000 vehicles in 2019. Additionally, although predominantly made up of used vehicles, the domestic rental fleet enjoyed a year of growth reaching an approximately 800 vehicles nationwide. Looking a bit deeper into figures, it is important to point out that since most of the production in Japan is not to stock, but instead made to order. Thus the end-user lead-time figure is also key to understand the workings of the market. In the last 3-4 years, the industry average has crept up from 6 to around 10 months with some manufactures needing over a year to deliver. Therefore, one could conclude that the above production figure actually represent the domestic production capacity rather than end-customer demand.
The Japan RVs
The vehicle segments, although in principal similar to other markets, when looked at in detail, differ in two key characteristics. The first is size, with the local vehicles tending to be smaller than their overseas counterparts. The second comes from the fact that base vehicles commonly used by US, EU or AUS builders are not introduced to Japan by the respective car manufacturers; thus local solutions are used. The locally manufactured RVs are riding on either Toyota, Nissan or Mazda commercial base vehicles. For the bus and full conversion segment, ranging in size 6.0 – 6.5 m and representing approximately 4-5% of the market, either the Toyota Coaster or Nissan Civilian are used. In the semi-conversion market, representing 30% of the market, with a typical length of 5.0 – 5.3m the Toyota Camroad dominates, but also the Nissan Elf, Mazda Bongo or Toyota Hi-Ace are utilized. The van conversion segment, with lengths ranging from 4.8 – 5.3m and representing 45% of the overall market is predominately built on the Toyota Hi-Ace with a small number of manufacturers opting for the Nissan NV200 Caravan. The last motor-vehicle based segment is a truly unique segment to Japan; the k-camper with max. length of 3.4m and width of 1.48, representing 15% of the overall market the segment is based on various vehicles from the k-car segment. With regards to trailers, Japan in general is not a “towing market” thus only 5% of the overall registrations are in this segment and predominately represented by EU imports.
The future scenarios
The opinions per future prospects for the Japanese RVing can slightly vary depending on the people asked. Most larger manufactures are forecasting growth, however, taking into consideration the aging population with 28% being over 65, plus the long journey before the younger population will truly enjoy life in a “western balance,” one may say that the market is unlikely to expand significantly in the coming years. But as anything in Japan, the initial incubation periods for grand ideas to flourish take significantly longer than other countries, additionally, most Japanese have it in their nature to consider and point out the reasons why things may not happen or the obstacles one may face; further complexing those looking from outside. But Japan can surprise… as recently seen in the tourism sector, a flat market with limited growth registering as 33rd most visited nation with only 8.6 million visitors ten years ago, recently experienced unprecedented growth reaching 31.8 million in 2019. Hence taking this into consideration and looking at the population vs. the percentage of RVing owners in comparison to other RVing countries, Japan may surprise us all in the coming 10 years or so. The writers of this report sincerely hope that this article can contribute as a small catalyst towards this expansion and with that thought in mind, we invite you to enjoy the rest of this report. On Aboutcamp BtoB number 26 (June issue) we’ll go deeper into the manufacturing processes thanks to our visits to some factories.