Japan
Page creation 13/04/2008
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"The car's height changes ! High on rough roads, low on highways"
(in "Automobiles of the world '65", published by Asahi Shimbunsha)
The first DS convertible to be brought to Japan, on a DS21 base,
exposed at the 10th Tokyo Auto Show, held in November 1968 (Car
Graphic, January 1969).
An amateur's entry in a photo contest, in "Motor
Magazine", July 1959. An "American" DS, in what looks
like a show-room.
Top and bottom: in June, 1961, the DS is present for the first time
in a Tokyo Motor Show,  just in time for the liberalization of car
importations (Jidosha Dokuhon, August 1961)
"The world's dream car" (in "Album of Imported Cars '63", published
by Kotsu Mainichi Shimbunsha)  
"One of the world's most famous cars" (in "Foreign Cars Album
Deluxe '64", published by Nikkan Jidosha Shimbunsha)
"One of the world's most famous cars" (in "Guide of International
Automotive Show '62",  published by Nikkan Jidosha Shimbunsha)
The restyled DS, with the new front and headlights, appears at the
9th Tokyo Motor Show, November, 1967 (Motor Fan, January 1968).
A DS21 Pallas at the 11th Tokyo Motor Show, held on October 69
(Motor Fan, January 1970). From then on, Seibu Jidosha is
mentioned as the importer.
Citroen's importer
Nichifutsu Jidosha
started an active
promotion of the DS in
1958. Not easy when
very few people could
afford, and were even
allowed, to purchase an
imported car...
Hatsuya-san, who was
in charge, remembers
those heroic times.
Top left : Hatsuya-san, the former executive for the Citroen importer in Japan Nichifutsu
Jidosha, during his interview, published by "Car Graphic" in June 1985. Top right : a
batch of DS unloaded at the Yokohama port, in front of the Marine Tower, summer 1961
("A walk in the Yokohama of the '60 by a young car maniac", by Kenji Kikuchi )
"The American military brought lots of
cars in the country, you can even say
they created the used car market by
themselves; but there was no single
Citroen." "So what could we do ? Well,
we asked the son of the company's
President, a Frenchman, to import a
DS for his personal use. He accepted,
and in 1957, he received the car, an
ID19."
For those who do not follow the
chapters in the right order (too bad !),
see more about this first-ever
Japanese DS
here
"It was out of question to leave the promotion of the DS to our dealers, so we decided to first
make a brochure, in English and Japanese, using articles from the American magazine
"Motor Trend", and we visited media organizations and taxi companies all over the country.
But the car was perceived as being too sophisticated by these potential users, conservative
by nature, and we did not get much positive feed-back."
See this first brochure
"But some people did show a strong interest. For example the President of Toyo Kogyo
(today's Mazda) Mr Tsuneji Matsuda was thrilled, he said the car had a 7-year advance
compared to other cars, and on his request, we brought the car to one of their warehouses
beyond the Kachidoki Bridge, where a large numbers of their engineers watched while we
lowered and raised the car, changed the wheel, etc."
"Next we showed the car to Isuzu, and their engineers said in essence "we can make the
same". Well I don't think they really could, first because of all the patents, then because if
nobody has copied the DS even today, more than 20 years later, it's got to be because there
are things you can't just copy in the hydro-pneumatic technology."
"At that time, in 1957, I decided to change
jobs, and I was interested in trade, so I
entered a company called Nichifutsu
Boeki (French-Japanese Trading). At
that time, the company had its office in
Akasaka, in front of the Toyokawa Inari
temple. It was a chic, 2-storey building,
with the whole first floor dedicated to
Citroen spare parts. In front of the
staircase leading to the second floor,
there was a stunning picture: a DS19,
with the Italian actress Gina Lollobrigida.  
Being an engineer, I felt at once attracted
by that car."
"Meanwhile, we ran an advertisment
every Friday in the (English-language
daily) Asahi Evening News, saying we
would soon import the DS19. An
American colonel called Pew (?
phonetic transcription from the
Japanese) called one day, and said he
would buy one. That must be the
pioneering spirit of America, always
willing to try new things... We took the
order, and his car landed in Japan in
December 1958."

"We opened the wooden crate at the
South Pier of the Yokohama Port, and
the first thing we did was read the
driver's manual. Then, manual in hand,
we started the vehicle and put the first
gear in. But then we realized we did
not know how to use the strange tiny
break, so the car almost fell down the
pier in the water !"

"The buyer was a nice man, and since
he wanted the DS to be more widely
known, he agreed to lend us his car
from time to time. So we ran another
ad on Saturdays in the Asahi Evening
News, where we proposed a free trial
of the DS. From then on, on a regular
basis, we held a couple of such trials
every week, mostly by American
military personel from the bases of
Yokota, Johnson and Yokosuka, and
we started to receive orders."

"A few years later we were selling
about 4 or 5 cars monthly. The
maintenance was done by Terayama
Jidosha (Terayama Automobiles),
and by Mr Ikuta, who had learnt by
himself initially, but whom we finally
sent to the Citroen branch in Saigon
for a full training for 3 or 4 weeks;
eventually he helped us set up in
Shimoochiai a subsidiary called
Nichifutsu Jidosha Seibi
(French-Japanese Automobiles
Service)."
Top and bottom: advertising for the DS in the Japanese press has
been relatively limited; to my knowledge there has been no specific
campaign for the DS in magazines, and the car only appears in
general ads for the Citroen brand in yearbooks or car albums.
All these ads show the name and address of the importer
Nichifutsu Jidosha (French-Japanese Automobiles) and their
dealer network.
Top ad: "Citroen, another name for Front Engine, Front Wheel
Drive" (in "Foreign Car's Album Deluxe 1967, published by Nikkan
Jidosha Shimbun)
"Then, by 1962, importation of cars
was fully liberalized. Cars could be
auctioned; we set the DS price
in-between the highest bid and our
own purchase price, which must have
been 2.3 million yen if I remember
well."

"Sales did not increase that much; but
we had a constant flow of orders.
Nichifutsu Jidosha had moved to
Aoyama by then, and we set up some
time later another subsidiary called
Nichifutsu Jidosha Hanbai
(French-Japanese Automobiles
Sales). Then for various reasons, in
1969, the representation rights as well
as all the staff were absorbed by
another car sales company, Seibu
Jidosha (Seibu Automobiles). Sales
were good when the GS was
introduced; we sold about 6,000 of
that model, as well as about 150 SM."

Hatsuya-san does not give a figure for
DS sales in Japan; but it is clear that
from the moment Seibu Jidosha took
over in 1969, promotion focus shifted
to other models of the range.

All in all, and from what I heard from
Citroen specialists in Japan, we can
estimate that anwhere between 500
and 1,000 DS may have been sold
during these years. But it should be
noted that most of the DS that can be
seen today in the country are much
more recent imports.
"The importation of cars was then limited to very specific purposes, most notably for American
occupation forces, embassies, or news organizations. But during a very short period of time,
around 1952 to 1953, importation had been authorized, and around 400 Citroen, 2CV and
11CV, had been sold in the country . Many of them having been used as taxis, they were in
pitiful condition. As the owner of the Citroen representation rights, our company's subsidiary
Nichifutsu Jidosha (French-Japanese Automobiles) had the duty to ensure the supply of parts
to their owners."
Top: the first ever advertising in a Japanese newspaper, a few
days after the official presentation of the car to the press, in an
English-language daily (Japan Times, September 1st, 1958)
A DS19 Pallas in "Sekai no
Jidosha '65" ("Automobiles of
the world '65", published by
Asahi Shimbunsha). An Ami
and a Panhard can also be
seen in the background, in
what was probably the
"Exposition Hall" organized for
a while by the French
Embassy's economic section
on the first floor of the
"Indosuez" building in Akasaka.

The legend of the photo gives
an interesting comment:  "The
Citroen DS19 Pallas; it does
not seem to sell so well, due
to the tax bracket".   
here