Photo/Illutration An Hongqi H9 car is shown at the brand’s first dealership in Japan in Osaka’s Nanba district on Dec. 19. The H9 is the Hongqi’s flagship luxury sedan and priced between 5.5 million yen and 11.5 million yen, excluding tax, in Japan. (Naoyuki Fukuda)

A leading Chinese automaker is seeking to find an entrance ramp into the difficult Japanese domestic market with its first dealership in Japan offering pricey luxury sedans. 

The first Hongqi dealership of Chinese state-owned car manufacturer FAW Group Corp. in Japan opened in Osaka’s Nanba district on Dec. 19.

To celebrate the brand’s first store in Japan, the municipality of Changchun in Jilin province, northeast China, where FAW Group is headquartered, sent a telegram, saying, “People in Changchun and all of China are proud of Hongqi. The significance of selling its cars in Japan cannot be overstated."

Trying to crack open the Japanese car market, which is dominated by domestic brands, the Osaka dealership symbolizes the inroads that Chinese automakers are making, even in a difficult market such as in Japan.

The new dealership offers the Hongqi, a premium car brand, with an H9 sedan on display on its showroom floor on the first day of business. In China, Hongqi has built a significant brand following, with some of the nation's political leaders among its users.

The new dealer will sell four types of cars including a gas-electric hybrid vehicle for the time being. Next year, it will offer an additional five models of vehicles including an electric sport utility vehicle (SUV). The automaker plans to open a dealership in Tokyo as well. 

The Hongqi models are aimed at the well-heeled car buyer, with some priced at more than 10 million yen ($88,000).

Currently, imports hold less than 10 percent of the Japanese passenger car market. Domestic brands enjoy a high level of consumer confidence and some foreign car makers, including a South Korean one, have exited the Japanese market.

An executive from a Japanese carmaker said the brands' strength is all that matters in the domestic market. 

"The success of Hongqi in the Japanese market depends on whether there are really drivers who want those cars,” the executive said. 

FAW Group’s bid to break into Japan despite difficult market conditions shows how Chinese automakers are becoming strong enough to compete in the global market. They have already exported commercial vehicles such as electric buses to Japan.

Previously, the advantages Chinese products held for consumers were their cheap prices, but now, quite often their quality and functions match those of Japanese makers. Almost 25 percent of goods imported to Japan in 2020 came from China, the highest figure ever.

Japan now imports less clothing but more personal computers and communication devices from China compared to 10 years ago.

“Made in China” labeling is now increasingly prominent in many areas such as TVs and smartphones, posing tough competition to Japanese companies.

(This article was written by Naoyuki Fukuda in Osaka and Akihiro Nishiyama in Beijing.)