lifestyle

Going, going, sold! - A glimpse into world of car auctions

35 Comments
By Len Clarke

The site is so vast that minibuses are being used to ferry people around. Rows of spotlessly clean cars, from Porsches to station wagons, stretch out in every direction. But this isn’t a Disneyland parking lot: it’s an auction. On this sprawling expanse of land in deepest Chiba, thousands of vehicles are sold each week — and Joe Public never gets a look-in.

Japan’s car auctions are justifiably famous, yet even dedicated auto enthusiasts have probably never seen one with their own eyes. Entry is restricted to certified buyers, dealers and their guests, with members of the public strictly forbidden. So when we were offered a chance to tag along recently with veteran dealer Colin Shea, we couldn’t resist.

To give an idea of the size of Japan’s vehicular auction trade, the site we visited alone saw 12,062 vehicles go under the hammer, more than 6,500 of which wound up finding a buyer. There were six auctions of similar size being held throughout the country on the same day, making this seriously big business. Despite — or maybe because of — the economic downturn, auction sales average over 50,000 vehicles a week nationwide.

The action takes place inside two gigantic halls in the main building. Dealers place their bids using 1,200 computer terminals, and each car is up on the screen for about 20 seconds before the next one comes along. The entire process is conducted with an almost military precision.

So why buy through auction? The advantages are two-fold: prices are often much lower than you could expect from conventional dealers, and the selection is incredible. If you’ve ever wanted to own a car in Japan — and I mean practically any car — it will eventually come up at auction. As a member of the public, the process is simple: find a dealer you like, decide on the vehicle you want, and wait. If it’s a popular model you’re after, they’re sold every day; for scarcer models, it can take a little longer.

We had been expecting row upon row of people-movers, but while there were certainly plenty of those, we also saw a variety of older and more unusual models. There were no fewer than 48 variants of Porsche 911 on offer. Other desirable drives included the Honda Odyssey, Lexus Harrier and Porsche Cayenne, with literally dozens of each being sold. In the exotics area, gems from Aston Martin, Bentley, Ferrari and Lamborghini sat alongside Rolls Royces, Nissan GT-Rs and coveted vintage cars.

In other words, the entire dealer network becomes the forecourt from which you choose. With space in Japan at a premium, most dealers, including Shea, use the auction as their showroom. Keep in mind that this is also where the dealers buy, and all cars are checked by an independent third party before going on the block.

Shea is one of a number of veteran foreign dealers in the auction trade who specialize in shipping cars to overseas markets, while also servicing expats living in Japan. He says that back in the day there was only a handful of foreigners doing this, but it’s a different story now. While we queue up for lunch, we see people from at least a dozen different ethnicities waiting alongside us. And with bargains as good as these to be had, who can blame them?

This story originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).

© Japan Today

©2022 GPlusMedia Inc.


35 Comments
Login to comment

So isn't the reporter even going to tell us where it is? "Deepest Chiba" is not really geographically informative. The reporter claims to have gone there and had lunch there, so this is information he should have.

Also, I would have thought a photograph of cars would have been more appropriate than a photo of computers.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Had a good friend in California doing this in the 1980's. His father was a used car salesman and so Mike just tagged along. I remember when we were in college that he would drive a different car almost every week. He'd buy one, drive it around with a "For Sale" sign on it and sell them that way. I even bought one from him, a 1969 GTO. It was in pristine condition in 1985. Wish I still had that car...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I love my car dealer, it is good to find somebody you like, they can pick the best car for you, so suiting. You dont mind giving them money. I wouldnt have a clue what you are talking about with all those names.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Been there, done that. It would be USS. One of the best ones was TAA, not far from Lotte Marine Stadium. Not many people there (comparitively) and good lunch bentos. Racing a Toyota Supra down the Express way was also a blast.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Selling fine automobiles is very much like making love to a beautiful woman. You take your time preparing your wares, cleaning with great care and attention, polishing the chrome to attract passing trade. A glance, a smile, a little conversation, perhaps some coffee while you listen, waiting for those verbal signals to inform and impress moving inexorably closer to the test drive. Then with the chance of a ride, go carefully, dont over rev the engine, use the controls with care and you'll surely close the deal.

Such a difference to the auctions in Japan. Selling via computer is more akin to looking at ladies on the internet.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

In Deepest Chiba Lies the pritsine Inba Lakes Its waters, home to the used automobile spirit Yamada who tosses Cynos alphas that have done no more than 20,000 kms to any lucky passerbys who wish it deeply in their hearts.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Selling via computer is more akin to looking at ladies on the internet

There is a small difference between the two commodities :) The cars on the net have REAL photos at least; but as for the ladies, you decide...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"There is a small difference between the two commodities"

Im not so sure, the best of both are beautiful, will regularly empty your wallet and require surgery when they start to get older.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

SwissToni: your comment is weird dude

0 ( +0 / -0 )

the public strictly forbidden<

http://bzl.cis6200.jp/e/p5_search.asp

0 ( +0 / -0 )

DailyBread: Thanks very much, http://bzl.cis6200.jp/e/p5_search.asp I just found my dream car online at the auction site and will order it today. This is just stunning.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Um, would you have an ID to go with that???

0 ( +0 / -0 )

GG2141 I did not need an ID. Just linked from www.porsche911.cc

0 ( +0 / -0 )

the public strictly forbidden<

Exactly how much information can you gain from this exactly. It lists the very basics only!!! You'd still need a professional opinion of the cars condition/history.

Maryhinge, thanks for the link. Gives a bit more details into the auctions.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

How do you find a dealer in your area? And, what is meant by "dealer?" Are these special "dealers" that are different from ordinary car dealers? The author uses words like "you choose," but how can one choose if entry to the public is forbidden? What is the process a novice foreigner should follow to get a car through auction? This article was really frustrating because it lacks practical advice.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I agree with Illsayit, it makes a lot of sense to use a registered car dealer. They have access to bargains we cannot reach and they have the technical knowledge so you don't end up with a "lemon".

0 ( +0 / -0 )

How do you find a dealer in your area? And, what is meant by "dealer?"

scap, you may find this site useful? I've used them myself and found them very professional. http://www2.gol.com/users/motors/carclub.html

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@Scap the dealer in your area is called Colin Shea. Yes, he is a special dealer very different from ordinary dealers and the gate to the forbidden public is now wide open .

tweeter is another hint to gain access

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Thank you Bermadoo for the advice. I live in Kyushu, so an auction site in Fukuoka area would be most suitable for me. Any ideas?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

That is why you need to make friends with a dealer so you can attend the auction as a guest.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

This was a good read, quite informative for starters.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The Japanese used car auction is pretty sophisticated and there are good finds. I've seen many Jaguar buyers from all over the world with the member dealer booked by the travel agent. Yup, those buyers were the group of tourists from England, Australia, NZ and the States. Why States ? Because in Japan, there are numbers of LHD cars, too. Sounds odd but its true. Also in Japan, the low mileage cars in outside Japan is sometimes considered as opposite. What I mean is that a 75,000km Jag XJ fully loaded and works just fine is so cheap just because 75,000 is pretty high figure on the clock.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Here's a list of all the auction houses in Japan

http://www.cartrade.jp/Auction_Location.htm

0 ( +0 / -0 )

gogogo:

SwissToni: your comment is weird dude

gogogo, type in "Swiss Toni" to Youtube and all will be revealed. I think that our SwissToni has been waiting patiently for years for the opportunity to write that selling cars is like making love to a beautiful woman!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r_E0ZF2uIKs

0 ( +0 / -0 )

fantastic read and great for a car lover like me , Shea tells a interesting story from the inside, lets hear more about the european collectables that come up, and of course the classic MG RV8, keep the excellence coming

0 ( +0 / -0 )

As mentioned several times in the article, Colin Shea is indeed a veteran of the used vehicle business. Having been here in the business for so long there is little that he doesn't know so, get in touch with him and gain the benefit of his experience and save some money too.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Why is JT promoting a named individual here? Colin Shea might be a great guy, but there are lots of other non-Japanese who do this work here at car auction houses throughout Japan. I used to do it as a semi hobby myself for years, focusing more on the Kansai area. Sure there are benefits to using this system, but there are also drawbacks which are not for some reason mentioned in the article.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Why is JT promoting a named individual here?

...because the said named individual granted access to the auctions!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Re Colin Shea - Tokyo Motors: i have known Colin Shea for over 15 years and have dealt with him many times during this period. i have always found him very straight forward and honest to deal with and the vehicles are always as described. The vehicles are so good i have referred many of my close friends and family.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I highly recommend Colin Shea. He is honest and straightforward and will always strive find the exact vehicle for your needs. Give him a call now !

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Whitepocky, he granted special access to... all of us? To the reporter?

OK, I've got the message that Colin is a great guy, and honest, etc., which if you'll look again at my original message I have never questioned. So let's say that this is balanced reporting about Colin Shea, then.

My second question remains unanswered. Why is it all positive, when there are downsides to the system? Surely balanced reporting should also show both sides and make us aware of any pitfalls?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

nandakandamanda, this is your opportunity to inform us all of the pitfalls.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

nandakandamanda, this is your opportunity to inform us all of the pitfalls.

plus 1

0 ( +0 / -0 )

OK, so here are a couple of things we need to be aware of. You are buying a type of car that you specify, but you don't get to choose the actual car itself, so it will be an approximation, as long as you are happy with that and understand that. The spec and color may be different to what you imagined. He may be able to send you a phone pic in advance. You can help to narrow it down in advance by specifying smoking or non-smoking, only cars from the green corner, etc., etc. so provide a list of likes and dislikes. You need to have the cash in hand and be ready to pay a lump sum as they only deal in cash. You also need to understand that although the auction house prides itself on its reputation, they cannot check every car thoroughly and exceptions do slip through. (My experience) Colin will be able to find a car and start the engine, but he won't be able to drive it around. You get till the following Thursday to complain if there's anything major wrong with the engine, gearbox etc., but the car is only just off the lot and not really in a position to be driven by you at all before the Thursday, so anyone would be really lucky to discover anything before the 5-day time limit is up. You will pay a pre-negotiated sum to Colin for his efforts on your behalf, but you will be paying probably quite a bit less than the margins to a regular garage, I should imagine. There is more, but you get my drift.

Not intending to run this down, and I have bought several at such large auctions, generally satisfactorily, but there are downsides that we need to be aware of. The upsides are definitely there, as stated in the article.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I will most definately use Colin Shea to purchase my next vehicle in Japan. You will not find a more helpful dealer anywhere!

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Login to leave a comment

Facebook users

Use your Facebook account to login or register with JapanToday. By doing so, you will also receive an email inviting you to receive our news alerts.

Facebook Connect

Login with your JapanToday account

User registration

Articles, Offers & Useful Resources

A mix of what's trending on our other sites