After Japan lost World War II, the Japanese government prohibited the importation of American goods into its country as a kind of "F-U" to Americans. The government also created import taxes designed to fund the rebuilding of its infrastructure after the U.S. bombed several of its cities, which made it unfeasible to buy imported goods, especially American products. The tariffs, while good for Japan's economy, have only served to whet the appetite of Japanese citizens for imported goods, especially when it comes to American automobiles. During the decades following the war, these restrictions and taxes kept out many American goods, but as the country's currency, the yen, became stronger in proportion to the American dollar, Japanese citizens found that it did make financial sense to import certain American goods that they didn't have at home. Gradually, the economic sanctions were lifted and a steady stream of American imports made way into the country, with automobiles becoming a sought-after import.
The 1990s saw an explosion of aftermarket auto-part manufacturers that loaded the market with styling products for sport trucks. Suddenly, anyone could own or build a custom pickup, thanks to the abundance of hi-po engine parts, suspensions, roll pans, and custom wheel manufacturers. You couldn't drive 10 blocks in California without passing a Chevy Silverado that wasn't lowered over a set of billet wheels. The craze was so big that even OEM car dealers were offering hopped-up versions of their trucks. At the same time, the Japanese thirst for Americana reached a fever pitch, and the yen was worth more than the dollar at this point, prompting savvy businessmen to begin importing customized American vehicles in bulk. In fact, it wasn't uncommon to have an exporter come right up to a custom truck owner at a show in America and strike a deal to buy their custom truck. We've even heard stories of Japanese tourists walking the infamous Pomona Swapmeet with a backpack full of cash, ready to buy up cars and trucks that weren't even for sale.
Back in 1996, Ruben Arteaga sold his Toyota extra cab truck for $21,000 at a truck show after its appearance on the cover of the Mar. '94 issue of Mini Truckin' magazine. Renowned custom-painter Steve Deman sold his Caprice wagon and Chevy Astro van at a local swap meet to Japanese buyers for a total of $70,000. Keep in mind that while these prices don't sound unreasonable, this was more than a decade ago, when 70K actually meant something. The '90s were full of stories like Ruben and Steve's and other shops that switched from building trucks for American buyers to strictly building fleets of custom trucks and vans that went right overseas for a huge profit. Times were good and the smart guys made a ton of money. A decade later, we're taking a look at the export industry to see if the average truck owner can indeed make a killing by shipping his truck overseas rather than selling it in the local Auto Trader publication.
Almost two years after his cover shoot, Ruben Arteaga was approached at California Truck J
This is the last time Ruben would see the truck in person, as he dropped it off at the exp
Currency Battles Japanese Vs. American On December 18, 2006, the U.S.-to-Japan exchange
How It All Began: OEM Cars
The exportation of vehicles started in the early '80s with the kids of military families. They would bring their personal vehicles from America when they were stationed around the world in places like Japan. As more and more vehicles were shipped to Japan, the Japanese people took notice and wanted them for their own. The Japanese were attracted to the large bodies and powerful V-8 engines that weren't available in their own mass-produced, subcompact cars.
It wasn't long before American vehicles were being sold as fast as owners could ship them over. Realizing how big the market was becoming, exporting companies (specifically for vehicles) like Hart International, Contact USA, Garage Daiban, and California Custom USA started popping up in the L.A. area, distributing to dealers all over Japan. All totaled at the peak of vehicle exporting craze, there were 25 companies exporting vehicles worth more than an estimated 650 million dollars, annually.
Before world-famous painter Steve Deman sold his pair of customs, the Japanese car magazin
These companies started off exporting Chevy conversion vans and other luxury vehicles from America. They were buying as much as 10 at a time from several dealerships, loading them straight onto a ship outbound for Japan. This, of course, hurt OEM sales for Ford, Chevy, and Dodge in overseas business, so the Big Three implemented new company policies that made it harder for exporters to buy brand-new vehicles and export them out of the U.S. Any dealership caught knowingly selling vehicles for the purpose of export would lose their franchising rights, so exporters started looking at other vehicle markets that might provide more capital.
Japan Gets the Custom Bug
Export companies found a sizable used-vehicle market in America that could make up for the loss of exporting new vehicles to Japan. The only catch with buying pre-owned was the fact that the Japanese were going to spend a lot of money to purchase used vehicles so they needed to be flawless. For this reason, show vehicles became more appealing to exporters who wanted to sell clean vehicles for top dollar, overseas. Street Shock, Kolor Kings, and dozens of other custom shops were used in preparing vehicles for shipping.
One of the most high-profile export trucks would have to be the MIC-built and Doug Starbuc
The benefit of using a custom shop to prep vehicles for export is that they could in turn make each vehicle look different from the next. It wasn't uncommon to see dozens of trucks and vans all of the same make and model loaded onto a ship, each one with a different set of wheels or custom paintjob. Japanese citizens jumped all over it, and the demand for these vehicles skyrocketed. Large-scale American truck shows such as California Truck Jamboree and the Pomona Swap Meet became giant aftermarket used truck lots in the eyes of exporters who would buy as many as 10 show vehicles at a time. This was in addition to the hundreds of trucks and vans that were getting built by shops strictly for export.
The height of the exporting craze occurred between 1995 and 1997, when more than 400,000 vehicles per year were shipped to Japan. The custom market in Japan inevitably grew way beyond just trucks and vans, as Japan's appetite for all things custom also turned to stock right-off-the-showroom-floor vehicles, to lowriders, old American musclecars, and restored classics. For the people of Japan, it was all about status. If you lived in a big city in Japan, owning your own home was nearly impossible because urban land was so scarce and costly you would have to be very well-off to afford your own. You might not be able to afford a house, but you could afford the next best status symbol, a new ride. Because the yen was so strong at the time, interest rates were low, and it was easy to get a loan to buy a nice vehicle. The good fortune in the export market did not last for very long, though.
The Ride Comes to a Screeching Halt
In November of 1997, the value of the yen dropped dramatically because of a banking crisis brought about by a Japanese economy that was paying too much for imported goods, and the fall of its own industrial technology export market. In short, Japan was importing great amounts of overpriced goods it couldn't produce on its own and many of its chief exports, such as personal computers and consumer electronics, weren't selling as fast because the rest of the world's technology had caught up. The world didn't have to buy its electronics only from Japan, and that really hurt Japan's economy and the value of its currency.
Consequently, the market for custom vehicles took a nosedive. During this period, it wasn't as easy for Japanese people to qualify for a loan, so they weren't as willing to purchase American automobiles, thus the export market suffered. Most of the players in the broker/exporter game closed up shop or found other, more viable markets.
How It Works
If you are looking to export your truck, there are a couple different ways to do it. By far the easiest way to export your truck is through a reputable vehicle broker. They have connections and contacts with hundreds of dealerships around the world, which increases the chances of selling the truck. All you have to do is submit a couple of photos and your asking price to the broker. They will be able to tell you if the price you're asking falls in the price range of the market overseas. As soon as a dealer shows interest, your broker will probably need you to take more detailed photos of the engine, undercarriage, and paint. Foreign dealers pay a lot of attention to cleanliness, so it's worth spending the time detailing your ride. Once the broker has all the details worked out with the dealer, you'll be given a time and location to drop the truck off. You hand over the title, and the broker will hand you a check and take care of the rest of the details. You don't have to worry about any extra fees that are part of shipping overseas.
When the world of exporting reached its peak, companies started mass-producing custom vehi
There are other ways to have your truck exported for sale. You can list your vehicle on websites, such as eBay Motors or Autoworld.com, and try and find a buyer. Once you have a buyer, you need to contact a customs broker or freight forwarder that can handle the extenuating amount of paperwork. Freight forwarders assist you in preparing price quotations by advising on freight costs, port charges, fees, costs of special documentation, insurance costs, and their handling fees. Expect to pay anywhere between 150 to 200 dollars for their processing fees and another 1,100 dollars for roll-on, roll-off shipping. Port charges, consular fees, costs of special documentation, and insurance costs vary between countries. The costs incurred for their services and shipping are a legitimate export cost that should be included in the price charged to the customer.
Don't Get Scammed!
In both cases, there are a couple things you need to do before the truck is sold. You need to make yourself aware of scams that seem to be growing, by leaps and bounds. If you are paid with a cashier's check, make sure it is for the correct amount and not over the agreed amount. Even if it all looks legit, walk it into your bank and tell them where the check came from and what it is for. You don't want to be hassled for fraud, if it is a phony check. Make sure the check clears before you make arrangements with the broker or freight forwarder. When you drop the truck off at the docks for shipment, make sure there is only a quarter tank of gas in the tank. And when the truck is loaded on the ship, make sure to get a bill of lading to show your local state DMV that you have sold your truck and are no longer in possession of it.
Today's Export Market:Is There a Buyer for Your Truck?
Since 1997, the yen has fluctuated between 103 yen per dollar and as high as 143 yen per dollar. Over the past two years, the yen has become stronger with an average about 114 yen per dollar. With the dollar more valuable than the yen, the chances of finding a buyer for your truck are slim. Your best opportunity will be when the yen drops below 100, making it more valuable than the dollar, which will greatly increase your chances of finding a buyer. So, the economic potential for exporting vehicles is there, but the demand has also changed. The Japanese people have followed American trends and music for years, and now that Japan's economy has recovered and exporting has stabilized, they want the bling. Vehicles like Chrysler's 300C Hemi, Hummer's H2 and H3, Escalade, Denali, and basically, anything that has balla status in the U.S. is sought after, overseas. The Japanese don't want stock trucks either. Big wheels, lots of chrome, leather interior with a high-end stereo system, and TVs everywhere is the look of choice.