Nissan overtakes BMW as No. 2 car importer in Japan image

Nissan Motor Company became the second-largest importer of cars to Japan in 2011, surpassing BMW.

Nissan’s imports rose 86 percent to 50,269 vehicles last year in Japan, according to a statement from the Japan Automobile Importers Association. The result is due largely to the Nissan March (Micra), a compact car the automaker builds in Thailand and exports to Japan.

The largest car importer in Japan last year was Volkswagen AG, with 50,635 vehicles, an increase of 8.4 percent from the year before. Imports by Japanese carmakers increased 62.3 percent to 69,787 cars. “The increase is purely from the March compacts,” Nissan spokesman Toshitake Inoshita told Bloomberg.

Nissan transferred production of the March from Oppama, Japan, to Thailand to offset the effect of a strengthening yen and to cut costs by moving production close to suppliers. The Japanese currency erodes profit from exporting Japanese-made cars. The yen has risen about 8 percent against the dollar in the past 12 months.

Last October, Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn warned that Japanese automakers would continue moving production overseas because of the strong yen. Nissan began construction last year of a plant in Brazil, and it seeks to build a third factory in Mexico, where it has a capacity of 700,000 vehicles a year.