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FEATURE: Japanese carmakers seeking to revive demand for sedans.

TOKYO, Sept. 25 Kyodo

Japanese automakers are revving up efforts to reignite a passion for once-popular sedans after witnessing a shift in the preferences of consumers who for the past decade had been more interested in minivans and sports utility vehicles.

They are now trying to revive demand for sedans by targeting the ageing baby-boomer generation and introducing a string of new sporty and luxury models.

Sedans had attracted strong popularity in the era of the asset-inflated bubble economy of the late 1980s.

Following the bursting of the bubble in the early 1990s, however, sedans took a back seat to minivans and sport utility vehicles in the intensely competitive world of the auto industry and the shifting tastes of the ever scrutinizing consumer.

An increasing number of drivers had became enamored with minivans and sport utility vehicles, giving priority to the practical uses they offered compared to the style and luxuriousness offered by sedans.

But now that new automobile sales have been following a downward path, automakers are eager to stimulate potential demand by introducing new sedan models.

The main target is the baby-boomer generation with the financial latitude to buy such big-ticket items.

''We would like to secure stable demand from baby boomers who have finished the years of child-rearing,'' Mitsubishi Motors Corp. President Osamu Masuko said.

Mitsubishi took the wraps off the new Gallant Fortis sport sedan with a 2-liter engine and a six-speed continually variable transmission in late August.

Although the automaker has set a monthly sales target of 1,000 units for the Gallant Fortis, the number of orders received during the initial four weeks totaled 3,900 units, almost four times the goal.

Mitsubishi officials said 60 percent of the purchasers are at the age of 50 or older. A further breakdown of the numbers shows that 34 percent are in their 50s and 26 percent in their 60s or older, they said.

In early June, Toyota Motor Corp. released the fully restyled Premio and Allion sedans equipped with either a 1.5 or 1.8 liter engine.

The Premio posted sales of 4,025 units in August, up 114.6 percent from a year before, while the Allion posted sales of 2,733 units, up 81.0 percent, according to the Japan Automobile Dealers Association.

''Sedans are the basics of automobiles,'' an industry official said. ''They are becoming popular among baby boomers partly because they give owners a certain amount of social status.''

Automakers are planning to accelerate moves to introduce new sedans in the coming months.

Nissan Motor Co. is set to roll out the sporty Skyline Coupe and Mitsubishi will launch the four-wheel-drive Lancer Evolution X in October.

Toyota will also introduce the ritzy and high performance Lexus IS-F sedan this autumn.
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Publication:Japan Transportation Scan
Date:Sep 29, 2007
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