The JDM RHD craze has just started to hit the US, but it has been going strong in Canada - especially on the West coast - for about a decade now. Why are Japanese imports so popular? Can we expect the same boom in the US? As a Jalop living on Canada’s West coast, allow me to show you why JDM imports are so freakin’ common here.
Japan is the only country that has so much population density on so little land. Necessity is the mother of invention - they’re forced to make the most practical cars on the smallest possible footprint.
Looking for a small, roomy, reliable, efficient, 4x4 diesel manual cabover van with skylights, refrigerators, inclinometers, and curtains? It only exists in Japan.
But why, then, are there just as many RHD versions of cars we got here as there are enthusiast JDM cars?
Regardless of if it’s an R34 GT-R or just a RHD Legacy, chances are it’s in fantastic condition. And I don’t mean ‘for its age’ - I mean these cars are just-out-of-the-showroom clean, and there are LOTS of them.
In Japan, the inspection/registration system is such that owning an older car is often more expensive than just buying a new car every few years. Hence, people trade up their barely-used cars often, and there’s high depreciation.
Try to find, say, a 15-year-old diesel Land Cruiser anywhere else in the world that looks like it just rolled off the showroom floor...it’ll quickly become clear why so many Canadians put up with RHD!
This includes things like small utility trucks never seen here - i.e. the stuff Torch loves - which are a dime a dozen there. Plus, anything that’s not a work vehicle typically has equipment that no US/CDN equivalent has ever seen...
So with an exclusive supply of unique cars, Japanese exporters can mark them up all day long. Right?
There simply isn’t enough space for the hoarding necessary to do this - the cars need to leave the country! So what happens when you have a market flooded with gems that have nowhere to go? Prices are laughably low.
Buying a spotless, highly-equipped JDM car and paying all the transport and import costs is much cheaper than buying something of the same year (but with less equipment and in worse condition) originally sold new in Canada.
Historically, they’ve been going to Eastern Russia, as well as RHD markets like Australia, SE Asia, and the UK. But once all the Skylines, Delicas, Hiluxes, and Pajeros became legal in Canada, people here started importing them, as well.
Unique enthusiast cars like those evangelized the aforementioned benefits, expanding the JDM import scene to include non-enthusiast buyers...
That’s when it really took off.
Aren’t US and Canadian import laws different?
Not really, except for one major thing: Canada has a 15-year restriction on imported, non-compliant cars, as opposed to the US’ 25.
In essence, all an imported car needs to be legal in Canada (if it’s between 15 and 25 years old) is that it’s not a rusted-out piece of crap, that all its factory equipment works, and that it has working seatbelts, side markers (people glue them on), and headlights adjusted for driving on the right.
When a car is 25 years old or more, it really needs nothing more than what it had when it left the factory. I’d check with Mr. DeMuro to see if it’s the same case with 25+ year-old cars in the states!
So will JDM cars take off in the US like they did in Canada?
The enthusiast stuff has just started hitting US shores now. If you start to see Kei cars and small RHD trucks driving around major cities in the near future, then brace yourselves - JDM cars are coming!