The Guy Who Started It All (Part 3)

Japan Car Direct on Japanese television. NHK documentary used Kei Trucks

Thousands! That’s how many. We’ve exported thousands of good used cars from Japan.

And we’ve gone from obscure to a leader in this business because those thousands of cars went to thousands of guys who scored good deals. They have become our biggest treasure: our satisfied customers, our Winnermen. We’ve even been featured in a Japanese TV documentary (which you can see here). Yeah, we’ve become a well-known and trusted Japan-based used car exporter. So I guess it’s time now for the third and final part of our interview with Scott Bower, our company president here at Japan Car Direct (JCD) and the guy who “started it all,” JCD’s business of exporting good used cars from Japan.

Today, among other things, I’m going to be asking Scott about the process of importing a used car from Japan. To answer the question: “How do I import a used car from Japan?” We’ll also be looking at some the most popular car models to buy used in Japan, and we’ll hear what Scott has to say to used car dealers who want to import multiple used vehicles direct from Japan.

Right, Lads, Let’s Recap.

But first, let’s have a quick review of what Scott has been telling us so far.

In our first interview (here) Scott told us the key point about value: Why it is such a good idea to buy your next used car direct from Japan and import it yourself. Japanese used cars tend to be in very good shape, with low mileage and good maintenance histories. Prices are very reasonable and the previous owners have treated the cars well. Further, by “cutting out the middleman,” you get even better value for the money you spend on buying a used car from Japan directly.

Scott also mentioned about how the process of importing a used car from Japan is, depending on where you live, much easier than you expect, and many of our customers in the USA, Canada, the UK, Germany, and Australia, and New Zealand have found it can actually be easier and better to import direct from Japan than to drag yourself down to your local used car dealer to get fleeced, or to get the wool pulled over your eyes…..or whichever it is.

Buy used car from Japan via JCD and don't get fleeced

(To find the import regulations for any of these countries on our site, just click on the country name above.)

Scott also mentioned about some of the most popular used vehicles to import from Japan today: Drift cars (especially to the UK), minitrucks / Kei trucks (especially to the USA and Canada), top end classic European cars (especially to Germany and other countries in the EU).

We also talked about JDM, Japan Domestic Market vehicles, and why they are very often simply the better cars. And in that first interview Scott told us about the first serious increase in sales that came to us in our tie ups with Myanmar and Bangladesh which was followed by the growth of our present main markets in the USA, the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the EU.

In our second talk (here) Scott told us more about JCD’s early history: What nearly sank us, what kept us afloat, the first vehicles that we exported (a Celsior and a Suzuki Carry Minitruck, by the way, both to Canada), when we’ve scored some of our best deals on used cars from Japan (Christmas Day), and when we once reeled in a car that was not exactly what it seemed (two Jimnys in one).

Right, Lads, Carry On

Now let’s ask Scott about the whole process of importing a good used car from Japan.

Dave Price (DP): Scott, earlier we touched just a bit on the used car import process and noted that it is not particularly difficult. But still, I think that in the minds of most guys who want to import a good used car from Japan, it’s, like, “a big thing” to import your own car yourself. Can you give us, in broad terms, what happens when, say, my brother, Tom Price of Cardiff and drift fanatic extraordinaire, decides to import a used Silvia from Japan. (Like this one here that we exported to the UK.)

Buy used S13 Silvia Import Direct from Japan with JCD

Scott Bower (SB): Sure Dave! First just ask your brother to register on our search engine. There he can tell us what model of vehicle he is interested in and what country he will be importing to. With this information we will send a reply within the day and activate Tom’s login so he can see all of the over 150,000 vehicles that come to dealer auctions weekly, and many of the prices they have sold for as well. Once we know the desired year, approximate mileage, auction grade, color etc., we can create a link that will automatically send Tom e-mail notifications when Silvias meeting his requirements are uploaded. Tom can then go thru those and send links of what he is after (whether it be a stock, mildly, moderately or heavily modified ride) to us by his preferred mode of communication, and we will translate those auction sheets for him. When one meets Tom’s requirements, we will recommend that we get a hands-on inspection done where a professional inspector will call us from the car and answer all of our questions. The inspector isn’t able to actually drive the car, but can start it up, and detect pretty much anything that would prevent us from bidding, or possibly lowering or even increasing our bid in some cases. With the knowledge of the inspection in hand, Tom can then tell us the maximum he would be happy winning for and we will either bid live or register his bid with the auction house. If Tom does have the highest bid and it is above the owner’s reserve he will win for one bid increment above the second highest bidder. The bigger the difference, the bigger the smile on Tom’s face! Bid high win low!

DP: Well, that does sound rather fun and exciting! After the win, what’s next in the process?

SB: Right! The search and excitement are over, and the waiting begins. We’ll send Tom a winning bid file showing the auction sheet, photos and the amount of the winning bid, and get Tom’s details to be used on the invoice and shipping documents. We will then send him the invoice to be paid in full within two working days. Meanwhile, we arrange for the car to be taken to the nearest Japanese port that has freight service to his nearest port. (In Tom’s case, that’s Bristol.) Once the car reaches the port here, we will have photos taken and an additional inspection done to ensure it is in the same condition as it was at auction. When the auction house sends us the registration and other documents, we will have an Export Certificate made and get a booking on the next ship for Bristol. Then when the car is nearing his port, we will email the digital copies and courier the originals to Tom and email the digital documents to the broker. Tom can use a broker of his choice, or we can recommend one that we use in the country of import. With those in hand Tom can get his MOT, ride registered and on the road!

DP: Is the process different in any major way if Tom Price lives in Miami and wants to import something bigger, but still with drift potential, like a 2001 Toyota Crown Athlete V (similar to this one here that we sent to the UK, I think, wasn’t it?)

I want to import an Athlete V from Japan

SB: Well, up to the point of getting a booking, (except of course the port will be Fort Lauderdale rather than Bristol) the process is exactly the same. All of the differences come with the import regulations of each country. In the case of the UK, cars older than 10 years are much easier to MOT and register. For vehicles going to America they have to be over 25 years old to be easily and cheaply imported. Also, Americans need to file an Information Security Form (ISF) to declare they will be importing a vehicle. In America DIY import is also possible but, for the most part, countries require using a broker. Our American friends can learn more about DIY importing here.

DP: As you look at it, Scott, what are the critical stages in the used car import process where something could go wrong, or where the customer needs to be especially careful, or where he needs to make the most important decisions?

SB: I’d have to say that the selection of the vehicle at auction is by far the most important part of the process, and also where there is some risk involved. I’d also have to say that this is where JCD excels. Our auction export agents are all extremely knowledgeable about cars and perfectly fluent in English and Japanese. These skills allow them to do perfectly accurate translations of auction sheets and get the very most out of the professional third-party inspections that we do before deciding to bid or not. We always do our utmost to get the best understanding of the vehicle’s condition and convey this objectively to our customers. In this way our customers know what they are bidding on and, in most cases, end up with vehicles in better condition than they expected.

DP: Actually, if I could just “toot our own horn” here a bit: We’ve had many really lovely customer reviews and testimonials over the years, and for those of our readers and potential customers who want to have a look at what other JCD customers have said about us, they can just click here.

They’ll also see some pretty nice photos of the good used cars we’ve shipped from Japan, now all settled in their new homes. Like this great photo of a used Toyota Land Cruiser that went to Washington State. He looks really at home in the forest to me!

I want to import a used Land Cruiser from Japan

Now, looking at the whole used car from Japan thing, the bidding, buying, and importing process, what points would you raise, and what advice would you give, for used car dealers who are buying and shipping multiple used vehicles from Japan?

SB: Well, the whole process is really the same, as we take care of each vehicle individually, one vehicle at a time. Maybe in the future if we are shipping 100s of vehicles on the same ship we might be able to work out a freight discount with the freight liner, but when the biggest Pure Car Carriers (PCC) can load as many as 6000 vehicles, that may not be easy.

(And as an aside for the guys who want to see what a big modern car carrier ship is like and what its capacities are, just click here.)

Now, some of our customers have used containers for multiple vehicles to cut the cost of freight or to ship to a port that doesn’t have RORO service, but currently (July, 2021) the cost of containers has gone sky high so that isn’t an option. One-way customers can decrease the import side cost of multiple vehicles is by having them listed on the same bill of lading, reducing clearance cost from approximately $300US on the first one down to around $50US from the second vehicle on.

DP:  Let’s talk a bit now about the popular vehicles to import from Japan. Let me ask you a couple of questions: What are the most popular used vehicles to import from Japan today? And: Are there any vehicles that have surprised you by their popularity?

SB: Well, right off the bat I’d have to say that kei trucks / mini trucks, are very popular to import from Japan. But there’s no surprise in that (in fact, as I mentioned earlier in our interview, the second vehicle that we ever exported from Japan here at JCD was a Suzuki Carry) because Kei trucks are just so useful, so efficient, so inexpensive to run, so simple and so tough that the only surprising thing is that there’s not one in every farmer’s barn and in every landscaper’s yard.….world wide!

Moving up the scale, Japanese performance cars are very popular used cars to import direct from Japan: Drift cars like the Nissan Silvia, all wheel drive super cars like the Nissan Skyline GT-R, or the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo, or Subaru Impreza WRX STi, high tech muscle cars like the Toyota Supra, and many other examples of Japanese performance machines are steadily popular because they are fast, fun, and well-built. You had that Celica GT-Four, didn’t you?

DP: Yeah, I had that AWD super car (like this one here that we recently shipped to Australia) for almost six years, and I followed him with a WRX STi sports wagon. Scary fast car, that was.

SB: Moving up again, Japanese luxury cars like the Toyota Crown, the Toyota Century, the Nissan President, these are becoming increasingly popular used vehicles along with larger 4WD cars like the Hilux and the Land Cruiser, and full size vans like the Hiace.

Now, I guess that if any specific vehicle has surprised us by its popularity it would be the limited edition Lancia Delta HF Integrale Evoluzione, of which we have exported over 20 good units from Japan. We’ve actually got a dedicated page on our website about these cars. (DP: you can find it here.) But, over all, I would say that the number of used German and other European high end luxury and supercars, Mercedes Benz, AMG, Porsche, Ferrari even, that we have exported has been a bit of a surprise.

DP: Why’s that?

SB: Well, it’s just that, when we started this business, we envisioned that we would be simply giving good value to our customers by giving them access to good used Japanese cars at reasonable prices, which, of course, we are doing today, but the focus was mostly on economy….”modest cars,” if you want to put it that way. Modest Japanese cars. And, for a while now, we’ve had steady demand for used European cars that could only be described as spectacular and classic. So, yeah, a bit of a happy surprise there, and a nice sense of satisfaction for us, too: Keeping some of the best of both European and Japanese motoring heritage alive.

The Guy Who Started It All (Part 2)
Car Café Day (Part 1)

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