You're finally ready to buy a car and you're pretty excited about it! But, like most car enthusiasts, you're at the stage where you're indecisive on what to settle for. Not to mention, you've been plunged into the American cars vs. Japanese cars conversation. 

In all fairness, American car manufacturers and Japanese car manufacturers produce great cars, but it all depends on what you’re looking for.

So, to get an answer to your question, a comparison between American cars and Japanese cars based on some determining factors is necessary. We hope that by the end of this article, there won't be any doubt in your mind as to which to settle for. 

Popular Brands

As a car lover, you'll probably have no problem recognizing some of the names on this list. These are cars you'd regularly see on the highway because Japanese and American cars are among the top sellers in the U.S. 

Top Japanese Brands

  • Toyota
  • Honda
  • Acura
  • Lexus
  • Subaru
  • Mitsubishi
  • Nissan 
  • Mazda 
  • Infinity 

Top American Brands 

  • Ford Motors
  • General Motors 
  • Chrysler 
  • Chevrolet
  • Cadillac
  • Buick
  • Jeep
  • Dodge 
  • Tesla 

Japanese Cars with Modern Designs 

  • Toyota Supra
  • Mazda Mx-5
  • Nissan GT-R
  • Subaru Impreza WRX
  • Honda Civic Type R 

American Cars with Modern Designs 

  • Ford Shelby GT500
  • Chevy Corvette Stingray 
  • Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat 
  • Cadillac CTS-V
  • Tesla Model X 

American Cars Vs. Japanese Cars: Things to Consider Before Making Your Decision

Safety

When it comes to safety, Japanese cars are some of the best. They are the forerunners when it comes to developing technologies that boost the standards of automobile safety. While American vehicles are safe as well, they fall far behind when compared to Japanese vehicles. 

A study by the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety in 2016 revealed a zero death rate for nine car models, most of which are of Japanese brands and none from American brands!

american cars vs. japanese cars

Reliability

The reliability of a car should be one of the first things that you look into when deciding to purchase a vehicle. This is because reliability translates into longevity, durability, and how much work will be required to keep the car alive.

When we consider cars like civics and camrys that rarely stop working, it's obvious Japanese cars come out on top in this category as well.

However, in terms of reliability, American cars tend to level up with the Japanese cars in their 10th year. After the 10th year, cars made by American and Japanese automakers will steadily decline in reliability. 

Performance

This category would normally be dominated by Japanese companies. But, in recent years, American companies like Ford, Ram, and Buick have experienced an improvement in the quality of their vehicles.

Also, Americans have developed a taste for muscle cars with powerful engines. But, it all depends on if you want a quiet ride or a more powerful, V8 engine.

Unfortunately for American consumers, there aren't many V8 vehicles in the Japanese Domestic Market. What you'll predominantly find are either four-cylinder turbos or the six-cylinder versions. Japanese cars are pretty fast, but you'd be wrong to think that they can measure up to the caliber of a Hellcat Challenger or a Shelby Mustang.

american cars vs. japanese cars

Fuel Efficiency

Japan as a nation is very economical and this has clearly shown in their history of manufacturing the most fuel-efficient cars. The launch of Toyota's Prius put the debate on American cars vs Japanese cars on fuel efficiency to rest. Japanese manufacturers have proved that not only are they interested in saving fuel costs, but they are big on preserving the environment for future generations!

With Japan in the lead, everybody else is now offering electrified alternatives of their models including all-electric units, fuel cells, and hybrids.

Design and Style 

The style and design of a car are unique features that should be considered when making your decision. A lot of consumers choose cars that show how they want to be perceived and the personal style they like.

Japanese automakers rarely change the styling of their vehicles and will retain the same designs for years. Meanwhile, their American counterparts continually churn out both stylish and affordable designs from time to time!

On the inside, American designers would bedazzle every nook and cranny with tech and incorporate comfortable accessories across the board. In comparison, the Japanese typically keep things more modest.

Purchasing and Maintenance Cost 

At this point you already know that Japanese cars are safer, more reliable, and perform better than most American cars. But, you're probably thinking there's no way they are cheaper since they offer so much more. Well, they are! 

Not just that, but they’re easier to maintain. Japan has perfected its production and pricing models. The same can't be said for American or European automakers for which the prices of their decent cars will leave a huge chasm in your pocket.  

If you're on a budget or new to the driving scene, opting for a Japanese car might be your best bet. Also, when the need arises to change parts, Japanese spare parts are cheap and readily available.

Size

To an average American consumer, size really does matter. Americans will often go for cars that are more spacious with ease of access. On the other hand, Japanese car designers would rather choose functions over form. Since they aim to be efficient, they tend to come up with simple and compact designs that effectively serve the purpose of moving from point A to B!

This also makes sense when you compare the average population size. The average Japanese man is 5'6 and 137.7 pounds while the average American man is 5'9 and 197.9 pounds. This difference in average height and weight helps explain the difference in preferences as well. 

So, if you're someone who would appreciate some elbow space, you might want to steer away from Japanese models.

Legal or Illegal 

International laws presiding over the safety and environmental policies vary greatly among nations, especially between America and Japan.

Cars like the Toyota Supra, Nissan GTR, and others were deemed illegal in the 1990s even though they had been previously allowed into the states. This was due to rollover regulations, emissions, and safety considerations.

That's something to take into account when you’re about to purchase a foreign vehicle. But, cars made in the USA do not have these problems because they would never be on the road at all if they fall short of any pre-requisite standards. 

Retaining Value 

The resale value of a car is determined based on several factors like mileage, maintenance condition, and operation environment. 

Since Japanese cars fare better than most when it comes to mileage and reliability, they are more likely to go for a higher price at resale. Buyers are convinced they are getting good value for their money's worth.

American cars generally have poor resale value because of the popular belief that they begin to fall apart when they hit the 100,000 mile mark. So, unless it's still relatively new, prospective buyers will shy away from spending too much on second hand American cars.

Innovations

To be more specific, we'll draw a comparison between the Chevrolet Volt and its closest Japanese competitors, the Toyota Prius and Honda Civic Hybrid. 

Honda's system is not extremely sophisticated. It has a mild hybrid configuration that's got more juice than the average start/stop system. 

Toyota's parallel hybrid system on the other hand is a lot more dedicated and intricate. But, it's lacking when we consider pure EV mode. 

Chevrolet happens to be the most recent, sophisticated, and powerful of the three. Its hybrid system permits the volt to run in series, parallel, or full plug-in EV mode and can alternate between them with no difficulty.

Comparison of Management and Corporate Strategy 

American Car Companies

  • Management is often focused on producing the next best thing. So, they're pressured into coming up with innovative and revolutionary products. This is risky because they fall into the habit of feeding the appetite of neophiliacs (people who love new things). But, beyond these very small sets of people are the masses who will only be somewhat convinced about your new product. 
  • Engineers at these companies have little to no time to improve the quality of existing products. Since the main goal of the company is to keep manufacturing products with a “wow factor”, it results in a shorter window of time for engineers to concentrate on how to make each model the best version of its original.
  • American car companies focus a lot more on maximizing profit than they do on excellence. This imbalance in philosophy is why they often fall behind their Japanese counterparts in producing efficient vehicles at cost-effective prices. 

Japanese Car Companies

  • Japanese manufacturers often employ a tested and trusted engineering model that emphasizes quality. Instead of going for flamboyant changes and the implementation of drastic modifications, they're comfortable with incremental sales improvements. 
  • Japanese car companies maintain stable management. The effect of the stability they encourage by keeping the same workforce over a long period translates into excellence. Their engineers would rather focus on improving and refining existing systems than create new designs every 4 to 5 years. 
  • Japanese manufacturers have perfected the art of delivering top-notch products at reasonable prices. Japanese consumers are hooked on this business model which consequently leads to more sales and higher profit margins.

The Rise of Japanese Vehicles in America 

Japan first debuted as an automaker in the United States as a low-budget alternative to existing competitors in the states. They offered both low cost in terms of buy-in and running cost. 

After the war, Japan experienced a shortage in oil supply and not enough major manufacturing reserves left. As necessity is the mother of invention, Japan started creating vehicles that were smaller, cheaper, and, most importantly, used as little fuel as possible. 

Still, most Americans weren't sold on the idea until the oil crunch happened in the 1970s. This created the ideal demand and supply atmosphere for Japan to sell their fuel-efficient cars to one very thirsty nation. Brands like Honda, Toyota, and Nissan quickly took center stage as America fell in love with Japan's practical and economical approach.

The Japanese automotive industry rose to remarkable heights when they adopted the philosophy of professor William Edward Deming to create a new quality control standard. This standard not only made their economy bounce back, but it solidified their position as a household name in the global market.

Conclusion

By now you've realized that you can't reach a definite verdict on the American cars vs Japanese cars discussion without first considering most of the factors listed above. 

After careful consideration, it becomes obvious that Japanese vehicles take the lead in several factors. However, the best car for you will depend on your individual preferences and the compromises you’re willing to make. The decision is ultimately up to you!