What does JDM mean when it comes to cars?

As you’re surfing the net and exploring discussions on used cars, you might keep coming across a particular acronym and wonder what it’s all about – JDM.

JDM is Japanese Domestic Market. It's one of the most important and under-valued parts of selling and buying used cars.

But what’s so interesting and special about JDM cars? What is the reason for all of their fascination? These questions and others we will try to answer in today’s blog all about the amazing world of Japanese Domestic Model vehicles.

Índice de Contenido
  1. What is JDM?
    1. Technology
  2. What is the Source of JDM Demand?
  3. What JDM Models Are Most In Demand?
  4. Performance and Kei Cars
    1. What about “kei” cars?
  5. JDM Models & the US Market 
  6. Conclusion – JDM: A Force for Good?
  7. Questions about JDM
    1. Which is the most JDM-friendly car?
    2. Is there a JDM-powered car that is faster?
    3. Is JDM better than other cars?
    4. Is it illegal to drive JDM vehicles in America?

What is JDM?

JDM stands for Japanese Domestic Market, and it refers to cars that are initially manufactured with the intention of being sold exclusively in Japan’s home market. These cars aren't export models.

What is the reason for this distinction? The reason is that most drivers in the West assume that European and North American production factors are identical, with one exception: European standards for fuel economy.


When it comes to Japanese Vs. European/North American expectations, however, it’s like looking at 2 completely different worlds. Japanese markets tend to be more open to technological innovations and integrations of new technology, while western markets prefer cars that can last for a longer time, and can be used for a good 10 years or more.

Some might argue that AR navigation and other emerging technologies are helping close the gap. Many young buyers in western countries have become more interested in technological advances than ever before.

But, overall the difference is still significant. Japanese car owners tend to be more willing and able to replace a vehicle after less time, if that means they can get the most recent technological item.

This forces Japanese OEMs to move more aggressively to get these tech items integrated and working in JDM models, even if it’s not 100 percent perfect yet.

Japanese companies often have a surplus of cars that they can sell overseas or dispose of.

What is the Source of JDM Demand?

While the above information explains the JDM car supply, it is not clear where the JDM demand comes from. JDM cars are unique in a number of ways. JDM models can be a more unique version than an export model, and are often better.

JDM models were sought after by fans who loved the Subaru Impreza sporty models, for their powerful engines and superior performance. Because of their low power and poor performance, UK export models can be likened to castrated livestock.

There is also a demand for fleet vehicles that are affordable. Countries like the Philippines, for example, are not as cash rich as China and don’t have a strong domestic manufacturing base for commercial vehicles like trucks.

As expensive as buying new Chinese models is, JDM surplus model are affordable and easily available. Popular models have included the Isuzu Elf, Isuzu Giga, the Mitsubishi Canter, the Hino Profia…the list goes on. These models are new to you? That’s because they’re JDM models.

Finally, there is the existence of the so-called “JDM Culture” which refers to those who import JDM cars in order to take advantage of their modification potential, or to stand out massively from the crowd with a car that perhaps no one else has in their neighborhood, perhaps even their county or state. We’ll explore both of these ideas in more depth below.

What JDM Models Are Most In Demand?

Statisticians alone will confirm that New Zealand is the country most in love with JDM vehicles. New Zealand has around 60% of its registered motor vehicles originating from outside markets.

A staggering 94% are Japanese imports. The nation imported approximately 134.800 JDM vehicles in real terms between 2015-2019. These are some of the most popular models available in New Zealand, but they don't include:

  • Mazda 3 (Axela).
  • Suzuki Swift
  • Nissan Tiida
  • Toyota Corolla
  • Mazda 2 (Demio)

Two more categories that find a lot of popularity are the high-performance sports cars and “Kei” cars, which we’ll look at further below. JDM, outside of New Zealand has enjoyed great popularity in Canada, Australia and the UK. With the exception of Canada, there’s something that joins together the Japanese, New Zealander, British and Australian markets — they all drive on the left-hand side of the road.

With right-hand drive cars being common to all these countries (meaning the wheel is on the right-hand side of the passenger cabin), as well as having a more permissive import culture, it’s relatively easy to bring in JDM cars to these markets.

A few are sold at auction by car dealers that do not have a dealership. These models are unique and attractive to all buyers.

Performance and Kei Cars

Further above, we mentioned the popularity of performance models and so-called “kei” cars in the JDM sphere. Models such as the Toyota MR2, Toyota Supra or Subaru Impreza and Nissan R34 GTR are popular options.

Very often, these cars are not imported to use as street cars either because they’re too problematic to register and insure, or because they’re just plain illegal due to lack of safety features.

Arguably the most famous example of a banned model is the Nissan Skyline GT-R, which is banned in the US because it doesn’t meet the requirements of the Imported Vehicle Safety Compliance Act of 1988.

Models such as the Mazda MX5, Toyota MR2 etc. are street legal and imported to match export models. Above we mentioned UK enthusiasts who wanted to get their hands on JDM Subaru Impreza/WRX models over UK models because they offer different specifications such as AVCs, more engine horsepower, different transmission, bigger injectors, better brakes…and the list goes on.

It’s not that Subaru is trying to make the car “lesser” when exporting, but rather they have to make it cost effective for an overseas market, which explains the many differences. Purchasing used JDM models, however, allows UK buyers to get the specs they want — or the potential specs if they’re going to mod and tune — without spending more than they would in the UK market. The car can be driven right-hand and is ready to go on UK roads.

That’s not to say there aren’t still performance limitations on JDM cars. Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association's (JAMA), a rule, placed voluntary restrictions on the speed of JDM cars. The speedometers are now limited to speeds up to 111.8 miles per gallon (180km/h).

What about “kei” cars?

This is a special, unique, compact utility vehicle that has a small engine of approximately 660cc. It can be no longer than 12 feet in length. Some of the most popular models are: Suzuki Jimny (Honda Beat), Daihatsu Copen and Autozam AZ-1. This utility vehicle was originally designed for Tokyo, Osaka, and other large cities in Japan. They’re small but reliable, as well as easy to park and fun to drive.

A kei car is a great choice in countries like the Netherlands, where there are limited space and high auto related costs. These smaller engines can be efficient and are also very affordable to insure. On the narrow streets of Amsterdam, they’re also very easy to park! Similar applies to London, Paris and Berlin, as well as Sydney and Melbourne.

JDM Models & the US Market 

So what’s the story with JDM and the US? Why isn’t the land of the free awash with JDM vehicles like some of the other countries we’ve mentioned? Well, the US does have a fairly decent market by any standards, but the size is still severely hampered by the existence of regulations that dictate any imported car that doesn’t currently meet US safety standards can only be imported when it reaches the milestone of being 25 years old.

Since many JDM cars don’t technically meet these standards, American enthusiasts are forced to update their potential JDM buys each year by checking which new models become legal Each calendar year passes. Assuming the rule won’t change anytime soon, it’s fair to also say that with each year going by, the potential for the JDM market in the US grows with newer and better-built models — thus more lasting — add more mainstream appeal.

The truth is that the US market won't have the same reach as those mentioned in the previous paragraphs due to this rule. This puts huge restrictions on models available and makes it difficult to find lower-mileage models.

Conclusion – JDM: A Force for Good?

JDM vehicles are still controversial. They are seen as an excellent alternative to domestic cars, with unique styling and access to more advanced technologies in older vehicles.

The JDM 2003 Honda Accord had viable variable cylinder control technology. It was a feature that was not available on export models until 2008. The tech wasn’t available on export models until 2008.

The main downside with JDM cars are potential speed restrictions — though horsepower limits were already lifted in 2004 — as well as common high mileage. Although Japanese drivers are much more efficient than Americans in terms of annual mileage, JDM cars entering overseas markets have large numbers of miles on their odometers.

For many, however, this just encourages a “hunt” for those models that exhibit the low-mileage, low-cost and high-tech combination that can make JDM so attractive.

JDM will continue to prosper as long as new models are available.

Questions about JDM

Which is the most JDM-friendly car?

Although it is difficult to determine the JDM cars that are best, there is so much to choose from. It all comes down to personal taste. Car enthusiasts agree the Toyota Supra is among the top JDM vehicles. The Toyota Supra is an iconic car, which has been in use for over a decade and remains popular to this day. Plus, with its impressive performance and sleek styling, it’s no wonder why so many people consider it one of the best JDM cars out there.

Is there a JDM-powered car that is faster?

Nissan GT-R, a JDM car that is among the most powerful on the market, is the Nissan GT-R. The sleek, powerful Japanese sports car can accelerate from 0-60 mph in 3.5 seconds. It has a top speed at 196 mph. It’s also relatively affordable compared to other high-performance cars, making it a great option for anyone looking for a fast JDM car.

Is JDM better than other cars?

As there are many variables to take into account when it comes automotive performance, there isn't a clear answer. JDM cars might be preferred by some people because the engineering behind it is better than that of American and European cars. It all comes down to individual preference.

Is it illegal to drive JDM vehicles in America?

In the USA, all JDM cars can be driven. However, there is a 25 year rule on JDM vehicles. This means that JDM cars older than 25 years can't be driven on US roads.

¡Más Contenido!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Go up