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Between the Drag Strip and Drift Course – American vs Japanese cars

Author at TechGenyz Contributor

We ponder on a question as old as time itself if your time started around the midpoint of the last century. We take a look at both American and Japanese Cars and what makes them unique.Roy Robles

American vs Japanese Cars: A straight-to-the-point compare

Let’s get one thing straight: more often than not, you’ll find car articles or blogs comparing Japanese and American cars by diving deep into their respective cultures. It’s frustrating to me because all I needed to know was the distinct differences between the cars, not a free sociology lesson from a two-bit hack.

So this time, this two-bit hack will just talk about the cars: their similarities, differences, practically everything that makes them tick. In short, what distinguishes an American car from a Japanese one.

Dodge Charge on the Road

American cars are known for their brawn and power

First things first: Breaking Labels

I’d like to start by squashing the bro-talk and referring to them as either “JDM” or  “USDM”. The former simply means the Japanese Domestic Market, while the latter stands for US Domestic Market. What this simply means is that a specific model, part or accessory was made exclusively for a particular domestic market; they’re not catch-all phrases or acronyms to describe one car over the other. 

For example, Toyota will always be a Toyota, and Toyota car reviews will always depend on the specific market where it is available. Don’t refer to a Japanese car as JDM if it’s freely available in the US; the same goes for an American car that’s sold in Japan. 

Here’s a quick tip: is the steering wheel to the left of the dashboard? if yes, then it’s not JDM.

Grace, engineering and reliability are hallmarks of Japanese car brands

American vs Japanese Cars: The Big and Small of Things

Over the years, American cars have always been on the chunky, big and tall section of the shopping aisle, while Japanese brands tend to be more minuscule in nature. It would be easy to think it’s because of passenger size requirements.

If recent statistical surveys are to be believed, such as on Wikipedia, then that may not be the exact cause. The average American male’s height is a good 5’9” while Japanese aren’t that far behind at 5’7”. I would more likely point to each country’s road infrastructure as the culprit.

Ford F150 Raptor Airborne

American car brands generally only know how to make it big

While American roads are wider and able to accommodate larger vehicles thanks to a large land area, Japan has smaller roads and denser cities. As houses are also smaller in Japan, parking costs a premium as well.

It would be difficult to, say, own a Ford F-150 Raptor and run it through the narrow roads of urban Japan. Practicality is one of the reasons to go for Japanese cars instead of American units, as the Japanese know how to downsize their vehicles. American companies, not so much (see AMC Pacer).

Mazda MX5 on the Road

The Mazda MX5 is proof that bigger isn’t always better

Something about Displacement?

I can almost hear you guys screaming at your screens right now: “There’s no replacement for displacement!”. Well when comparing American vs Japanese cars, you’re right.

Pure, red-blooded American cars, particularly full-size and muscle cars, need large displacement engines to lug their weight around. In contrast, cars sold by Japanese automakers are made with smaller engines.

Just thinking of a performance Camaro ditching a 7.0-liter LS engine and opting for a four-banger just sends shivers down any enthusiast’s spine; it’s just not right. The same goes for Japanese cars as even their most powerful models like the Nissan GT-R (click to find a more in-depth review of the Nissan GT-R) use a 3.8-liter V6, albeit powered by twin turbos. 

LS1 engine bay in a Corvette

A glorious 5.7-liter LS motor in a Corvette

In a nutshell, Americans are obsessed with V8 engines. Nothing really beats the sound and sheer power of a large displacement engine. Just starting a vehicle with that much muscle under the hood is almost enough to restart the Earth at the off-chance it stops spinning on its axis. This leads us straight to the next major difference between the two…

Honda B16b engine inside a Civic

The Civic Type R makes do with a small 1.6-liter engine and still dominates.

Compromising between Power & Fuel Efficiency

The price of gasoline in each country tends to have a profound effect on the priorities of car companies. We often disregard this fact, which I believe is one of the main reasons why Japanese and American cars are designed as such.

The US is actually one of the world’s biggest oil producers; in fact, it tops the list at almost 18 million barrels per day, surpassing second-placer Saudi Arabia which produces around 12 million barrels per day. Prices of fuel in the United States, at USD 3 per gallon, are actually lower than the global average of USD 4.

To put that into perspective, Japan’s average fuel price is USD 5 per gallon. This might seem trivial to us whenever we’re at the pumps, but the United States actually has it quite better than the rest of the world. This price disparity is the reason for the distinct differences in engineering and design between cars from both countries.

Ford Mustang GT35 on the Road

You won’t find American cars on the list of most fuel-efficient cars

Since Japan has no significant oil production infrastructure in place, Japanese automakers have to come up with products for their own market that are as fuel-efficient as possible. This isn’t to say that US car companies produce the opposite; Tesla, a fully US-owned company, happens to be a pioneer in the fully-electric car industry.

Meanwhile, more mainstream companies such as GM and Ford make cars primarily for the US Domestic market, adapting to the customer’s needs. Since the US worries less about gas prices than Japan, its priorities are more oriented towards performance, space, and durability rather than outright fuel economy.

Mitsubishi Mirage Side Profile

One of the most fuel-efficient cars available in the Mitsubishi Mirage

American vs Japanese Cars: Resale Value

Here is the part where it gets a bit iffy. It’s difficult to admit that Japanese cars do hold their value much better than American cars, but it is true.

Checking out the car listings on Philkotse.com (or any other reliable car websites for that matter), generally speaking, Japanese cars retain their resale value much better than their American counterparts. I won’t be speaking about each brand’s reliability and durability, but mainly because the secondhand market primarily looks to Japanese imports for their used car needs more often than American ones.

Chevrolet Cobalt Parked next to building

The Chevrolet Cobalt sports coupe sells for so much less than its original asking price

Whether this is because of fuel economy, brand reputation or parts availability, it all boils down to market preference. On average, a car loses over 50% of its value during the first five years of ownership, yet we see prices on US brands plummet beyond that mark.

This leads to the opinion that if you do plan on reselling your vehicle eventually, then Japanese cars are a better option, although I personally don’t see anything wrong with buying American if you just want to drive your own set of wheels without plans of flipping it in the future.

Toyota Corolla Parked on the Street

A used Toyota Corolla can still be had for a pretty penny

American vs Japanese Cars: So What Now?

There used to be a clear cut line between Japanese Cars and American Cars. That is if you wanted a reliable, rugged and fast car you would spend good V8 money for an American. On the other hand, Japanese cars are made for those who consider fuel economy, practicality and technology.

These days, however, it seems like both camps have everything you can possibly need. With both cars either from Japan or the US offering a plethora of car models to choose from and the advent of the “Global Car” where parts and models are sourced from different countries, the difference seems to be evening each other out.

Two super cars outdoor

No matter what kind of car you get, never regret

Whatever your choice will be, whether it be pure American Muscle or Japanese Technology. Always go with your heart. You’d be spending your hard-earned cash for the car of your dreams, so why settle if you know in your heart, you know the right one for you?

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