Japanese vs. American Cars: Which is Better?

Everyone has their own perception about which country manufactures the best vehicles. One most popular belief is that Japanese cars are better than American cars.

But here’s where the irony comes in: The Japanese automotive industry rose to exceptional heights because of one American engineer, statistician and professor named William Edward Demings. His precise methods helped Japanese companies create a new quality control standard that not only helped their economy to recover, but also made their vehicles very competitive in the global market.

So if the Americans need to blame someone for having such a tough competitor, then it should be one of their own: Dennings. 

But seriously, Japan’s automotive industry has gone a long way from the time when Komanosuke Uchiyama made Takuri, the first Japanese-made gasoline engine car in 1907.

Now the question is: are Japanese vehicles really better than American cars these days? Let's make a side-by-side comparison:


Shows which brand / models are the most well-known in the world.

We found out that there are more popular Japanese cars compared to American vehicles.

Japanese Cars

Japanese car brand logos

Japanese Car Manufacturers:

Most Popular in the World:

  • Nissan

  • Honda

  • Toyota

American Cars

American car brand logos

American Car Manufacturers:

Most Popular in the World:

  • General Motors

  • Ford

  • Chrysler


Shows how safe a car is when driven on various roads and environmental conditions.

Is it true what they say about Japanese cars and safety? You bet it is. The myth that Japanese cars are the safest is actually true in this case, since they are known for developing technologies that raise the standards of automobile safety, often higher than anyone else.

Here’s one proof. This study regarding the safest cars in the Philippines shows a list dominated by Japanese car brands followed by European vehicles. And where are the American cars? Nowhere to be found.

Just in case you think we’re biased here, the most recent study made in 2016 by the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS) revealed these nine car models with a death rate of zero:

Notice a trend?

Fuel Efficiency

Shows how much or how little a car consumes gas.

Japan has always had the history of manufacturing the most fuel-efficient cars, so they also win in this category, hands-down. In a study conducted by Petron Philippines, the top 10 all ran on diesel, with three Japanese car models included in the study. Again, no American cars were included in the list. However, we think that this will change in the near future, as General Motors and Ford are slowly catching up in this race. Not to mention everybody is now offering electrified versions of their models including hybrids, fuel cells, and all-electric units.

To make it more interesting, we’ve also included a study made by the United States' Department of Transportation regarding the top vehicle brands companies used for car fleets (Car Fleet Efficiency). The result reveals that Toyota tops the most fuel-efficient cars, with General Motors and Ford trailing behind. Of the top 10 cars included, four cars were Japanese brands (Toyota, Honda, Nissan, and Subaru), while three were American (GM and Ford).

Car fleet efficiency diagram

Style / Design

Shows the vehicle’s look and appearance.

Japanese Cars

Japanese manufacturers tend to change their car’s style less frequently, and the designs don’t become outdated easily. Really, it’s not surprising to see some models continue with the same design for many years. Also, Japanese cars are mostly known for their compact cars, although they do produce bigger ones as well.

American Cars

American car designs tend to change frequently, and many of their vehicles are larger--either in size or volume--compared to the Japanese ones.


Shows which cars are considered the top “bestsellers” in the Philippines.

Here's the top ten best-selling cars in 2016:

  1. Toyota Vios

  2. Toyota HiAce

  3. Ford Everest

  4. Toyota Wigo

  5. Mitsubishi Montero Sport

  6. Isuzu mu-X

  7. Toyota Hilux

  8. Mitsubishi Mirage G4

  9. Toyota Innova

  10. Ford Ecosport

The list shows that eight out the 10 best-selling cars are Japanese brands. Only two American cars made it to the list.

Dependability / Reliability

Shows a car’s susceptibility to failure, or how well you trust that a car part such as the power train, body, interior, car features and accessories will last as specified by the factory.

In a doctoral dissertation published by the Curtis Laws Wilson Library, it was found out that with regards to reliability (how dependable and durable the powertrain, body interior, and feature accessories are), American cars aren't as far behind as we once thought they would be.

The study also revealed that American vehicles tend to start poorly in early years, but then close the gap to Japanese cars steadily once it hits the 10th year. Interestingly, American vehicles also show a decrease in dependability over the years, but shows a slight increase in reliability once it hits its 9th and 10th year. Japanese cars, on the other hand, remain mostly within the same range, so they're actually more stable within a longer period of time. Whatever the case, both these cars still decline in reliability after the tenth year.

Japanese and American PT, BI and FA averages diagram


Shows how well a car's engine and transmission will perform over the years.

While Japanese cars have always been known for good performance, we have to note that many American cars like Ford, Ram and Buick have experienced an improvement in quality over the years, giving Japanese cars a tougher competition in the market. Also, Americans love muscle cars, and their demand for powerful engines have influenced them to continue creating better engines and transmissions for their vehicles.

However, both the engine power and transmission of these cars still decline in performance after 10 years, with the American ones running slightly better during the ninth year.

Japanese and American over all averages- cr

Management / Corporate Strategy

Shows how the company manages and develops their products.

Japanese Cars

  • Japanese car manufacturers are more efficient in planning, with a shorter product development lead time. The Japanese often use a tried-and-true style that emphasizes quality.

  • Management is more stable and constant, so engineers can concentrate steadily on improving systems in individual vehicles instead of getting pressured to constantly reinvent something.

  • Quality is often given more importance than profits (except for Toyota, where their profit-driven hesitancy to manage a floor mat recall gave way to a "runaway Toyota" media frenzy).

American Cars

  • The management is often pressured to come up with revolutionary and innovative products. This can be quite risky for the company, since no one can really tell if whether its “next big thing” will be a flop to the masses.

  • Engineers are given lesser time when it comes to improving present products for the sake of improving quality, since the expectation is mostly to come up with dramatic and revolutionary improvements at a time.

  • Pressure to increase profits is more cut-throat compared to Japanese companies, with engineers asked to find better ways of cutting costs while improving quality.


So, which is better, really -- Japanese or American vehicles? While Japanese cars seem to have more edge, we think American cars have something to offer as well.

Of course, many Japanese-branded cars today aren't actually built in their home country, and the same goes for American cars as well. In fact, some of the American and Japanese branded cars you can buy here in the Philippines are made locally. 

With that in mind, in the end, only you can decide which carmaking country suits you best.

Updated by Wilbert Tan on July 22, 2020

Recommended Articles For You