Of the many cars that the Japanese produce, surprisingly it is the models for their Japanese domestic market that prove to be the most alluring. They seem to come from an entirely different world, with marketing that feels uniquely Japanese- and occasionally a little too quirky to survive the tastes of those outside of Japan. And yet people flock to buy these cars when they come in via grey import, braving the difficulties that may arise when you own and maintain a rare car.
Toyota has a fairly extensive model range when it comes to the Japanese domestic market. Some of the more popular cars you may have seen around are the Mark X and Caldina. That being said, there are numerous other examples out there- the Crown and Century, for example, are the pinnacle of the Toyota product lineup, and yet are rarely seen outside of Japan. Why Toyota doesn't export these is a difficult question to answer, but the simplest answer is a lack of demand to justify the costs and support necessary to officially sell a car.
In some cases, Japanese domestic market products are simply restyled variants of global products for Japanese tastes, but in other cases they sit on entirely unique platforms. The aforementioned Mark X could be compared to a Camry in many respects, but it is unique in the sense that it has a front-engine, rear-wheel drive layout- and again, the car isn't necessarily marketed as a sports sedan, despite having those unique aspects.
But with the Japanese domestic market rapidly shrinking in volume, manufacturers are looking to scale back their product lineup simply due to a lack of demand. This happened back in the 60s as well, when both Toyota and Honda were forced to rapidly rethink their product lines in order to suit a maturing economy. There was once a time when the infamous kei car was regarded as a temporary car- for those who couldn't afford a full sized vehicle, but still needed something to get around. The result of this shift in mindset was the beginnings of the Corolla (and eventually Vios) model line we see today: basic sedans that fulfill the majority of an owner's needs.
This time around, there simply isn't a vacuum that needs to be filled. It doesn't help that more and more people these days are less inclined to drive or own a private car, with ride sharing services and public transport systems being as plentiful and efficient as ever, respectively. Toyota has taken notice of this and, as Reuters reports, they are looking to cut down on their roughly 60 unique car models on offer in Japan.
The reasoning for maintaining domestic market models is fairly simple. If you've been paying attention (or perhaps it's a little difficult given how little information there is on Japanese domestic market models), numerous features are first introduced in these domestic market models before they are rolled out on a global scale. You may think that the Japanese want exclusivity and priority for their home market, but a great deal of rationale and emphasis is also on testing these features properly before trying to integrate them in global products.
There's also the relatively unique nature of the Japanese driving environment that makes domestic market models relevant. That catchy Daihatsu Wake ad that made its rounds on the internet a couple of months ago may seem a little peculiar, but that is exactly the kind of car that the Japanese want: compact exterior dimensions, with an emphasis on practicality and usability. Kei vans and kei trucks are still a common sight in many of the smaller towns.
But again, the demand for these cars is dropping. Toyota itself is also shifting its focus towards electric cars and autonomous driving, and with that they will need to trim the less popular products in order to make way for newer, more engaging ones. This, coupled with the sheer cost efficiency of global products, simply makes enough of an argument to phase out various models within the Toyota domestic market range. But one thing is for sure: we will continue to see these forbidden fruit being brought in on the grey market, because there will always be a level of demand for them outside of Japan.