In the land of kei minicars, pick-up trucks are the new cool - Mitsubishi Triton returns to Japan
Hans · Sep 21, 2023 02:49 PM
Japan is a land where individuality is expressed not by a person’s choice of clothes, but his / her choice of cars. Visit Japan’s congested train stations in rush hour, and you will see that everyone dresses in the same grey/black-white business suits. Walk into a Uniqlo store in Japan and you will notice that regardless of apparel type, it’s in the same range of soft, boring, neutral colours – very different from our much more colourful local Uniqlo stores.
Japan’s car scene however, is unlike any other. Even though Japanese roads are right-hand drive, status conscious buyers insist that imported cars must be left-hand drive. Those who want to stand out even more will want either a Jeep Wrangler or a Mercedes-Benz G-Class, which are among the two most popular imported cars there.
Lately, there has been an uptick in demand for pick-up trucks, not for commercial use, but purely as a wealthy hobbyist’s car.
Unlike us in Southeast Asia, no Japanese will use a Hilux-type pick-up truck for work, because on tight Japanese streets and parking lot size restrictions, a kei minitruck like a Daihatsu Hijet Truck or a tall kei minivan with sliding doors like a Honda N-Van is much, much more practical. Traders also love wagons like the Toyota Probox.
In 2017, Toyota attempted something extraordinary. They re-introduced the Toyota Hilux to Japan, after a 13-year hiatus. The Hilux is not positioned as a work tool, but as a lifestyle car sold alongside the retro-ish Toyota FJ Cruiser, which was going to be discontinued with no replacement.
Toyota didn’t have very high ambitions on the Hilux and only a small number of units (~2,000 units) were imported from Thailand annually, mostly to fill the void left by the FJ Cruiser.
The reason for the pessimism was because all pick-up trucks in Japan are classified as a commercial vehicle, which under Japanese regulations, means it is subjected to annual inspection and higher highway toll rates.
Still, that didn’t stop parallel importers from filling the niche with American Ford and Chevrolet trucks.
Five years later, the Toyota Hilux quickly became a status symbol for wealthy outdoor lifestyle loving Japanese drivers. A Hilux is priced the same as a Land Cruiser Prado and a Toyota Harrier - circa 4 million Yen, which is also the starting price of a Mercedes-Benz A-Class there.
It is not unusual to see a Toyota Hilux in an upscale district in Tokyo, parking alongside a Mercedes-Benz G-Class or a Jeep Wrangler – these cars are all collectively seen by Japanese enthusiasts as trendy lifestyle urban 4x4 vehicles.
The success of the Hilux in Japan is not lost on Mitsubishi Motors, which has since confirmed it too will re-launch the Mitsubishi Triton in Japan in 2024, breaking a 12-year hiatus for the Triton nameplate in Japan.
The last Triton to be sold in Japan was the ‘Stormtrooper look’ fourth generation model of the mid-2000s.
Like the Hilux, the Japanese market Mitsubishi Triton will be imported from Thailand.
Although Thailand has launched the new sixth generation 2023 Mitsubishi Triton, we need to point out that the highest specifications Athlete variant has yet to go on sale (or start production) there .
A flag bearer of the Triton’s pride, few Mitsubishi overseas sales offfice, Malaysia included, will want to launch the Triton without the Athlete to clear a path deep into Hilux territory.
As such, Malaysia and Japan will only launch the new sixth generation Mitsubishi Triton in 2024.