Kansai Scene Magazine


Going once, going twice, going vroom!

KS looks at the whacky, racy world of car auctions.

Have you ever wondered what goes on behind the closed doors of Japanese businesses in the endless sea of concrete buildings throughout the dense, zone-less, sprawl of the Kansai community? Apparently, more than we think, because, according to the Osaka City Office of Urban Revitalization and Promotion, the region that many of us call home has over 50,000 different companies and a GDP just slightly smaller than Canada. Amongst these multitude of lucrative ventures lies one of the largest yet least seen industries: that of car auctions. Japan has the second largest auto industry in the world, and with Toyota quickly becoming the world's leading auto maker, it may be of no surprise that thousands of cars pass hands daily at the widely scattered car auction sites throughout Japan.

Kansai Scene decided to take a behind-the-scenes look at this fascinating yet little known industry by visiting USS Osaka.

While it may sound like it belongs in the navy, USS is actually the acronym for Used Car System Solutions, the largest auto auction company in Japan. Located on the tip of Nakashima in Nishiyodokawa ward (where the Yodo river meets Osaka bay), the auction house is, ironically enough, only accessible by car. The state-of-the-art structure, completed less than a year ago, is home to a weekly auction of nearly 1,500 automobiles of various types, from smaller kei-type cars (the ones with the yellow license plates), to decommissioned taxis, orange-colored service vehicles, motorcycles, pristine sports cars and even heavily damaged monstrosities waiting to be sold for parts.

Auctions are held every Friday in the main building, while the colorful, adjacent six-story parking structure houses all of the aforementioned vehicles up for sale. Those expecting a loud, rambunctious auctioneer and hundreds of eager dealers fighting tooth and nail for that tasty bargain will be quite surprised, because the main auction room itself resembles a distance learning classroom, with rows of flat-screen computer workstations and four huge liquid crystal displays on the front wall (and no auctioneer in sight). I've been to libraries much noisier than this unique business transaction space.

All auctions are done online, and anyone with a USS account can bid for the automobiles from anywhere in the country. One might wonder why the auction house exists at all, and the answer comes from the faces in the crowd, a mixture of people from all over the world, competing for the right set of cars to export. In fact, roughly thirty percent of cars sold at auction go for export, with Russia, Middle East, Pakistan, Australia and Africa being the main markets. The advantage of going directly to the auction house to bid (as opposed to bidding from your home computer) is that you can check out the actual sale vehicles in the garage next door. Just as with all types of online shopping, sometimes you want to see the product in person before purcha- sing, as photographs alone can't reveal everything.

As the auction got underway, I found myself completely mesme- rized by the entire process, in which a complete transaction can take anywhere from 10 to 40 seconds. The automobile up for bid is displayed on the main screen at the front, the bidding starts, and the price climbs rapidly until the winner is determined. The entire process repeats itself, over and over, until the final vehicle is displayed.

The speed and technology is all a bit daunting for the casual observer, but the buyers handle the system with almost casual skill. The atmosphere was surprisingly calm, due to the electronic nature of the bidding. Two people could be sitting at adjacent workstations, bidding for the same car, but would never know it.

Winning bidders have five days to retrieve their newly acquired vehicles from the auction house, so that preparations can be made for the following week's auction. This cycle repeats itself, week after week, year after year, and this company is only one in a huge gallery of players. While USS Osaka holds an auction every Friday, other auction houses throughout the city prepare for their weekly offerings. In fact, everyday of the week a different company is holding an auction, and most dealers have member- ships with two or three different sites.

Every Monday, both Nissan and Mazda hold auctions in Osaka. This is followed on Tuesday by Toyota. BayAuc, formerly known as the Osaka Nanko Auto Auction, holds their massive midweek auction on the Osaka Bay, and is followed by close rival Hanaten Auto Auction (HAA) Osaka on Thursdays. Fridays are dominated by the USS Osaka auction, while on Saturdays all eyes turn to the HAA Kobe auction, the largest in western Japan, where eight to nine thousand vehicles change hands weekly. Sundays are reserved for a long overdue break from the hustle and bustle of this high-paced industry.

Those interested in visiting any of the auction houses in the Kansai are encouraged to do so. The massive HAA Kobe auction probably sounds the most tempt- ing, but the USS Osaka site is also well worth a visit. You are not allowed to bid on any cars without membership, but observing the auctions in progress is perfectly acceptable. If you're in the market to buy or sell a car and would like to do it through an auction, then it's best to contact a dealer who already has a membership at an auction house.

The Coral Co. (www.aisha.co.jp or www.coral.bz ) is one such dealer.

Text: Wes Lang • Photos: KS

:: Online Articles


The hush-hush world of hostessing
Understanding this misunderstood business

:: feature

Maid in Japan
Maid cafes

:: special

Going once, going twice, going vroom!
Hi-tech comes to car auctions

:: profile

A leap into the unknown
Mark Richardson of Age of Jets

:: travel

Only in India


God's home
Ise Jingu, Mie

:: Kansai Listings


Up to date cinema listings guide so you always know what's on, where and when!

:: ART

Best exhibitions & listings


Best events & listings


Best gigs & listings


All the hot picks

:: Also in this month's mag

:: Food

Cafe Hafez, Horie


Red Lion, Higashi Shinsaibashi


Best festivals & listings


New releases & recommendations


Best films & cinema listings


What's in a label?


Size matters
The Asus Eee PC 701 - super mini computer

Buying a brum brum

So, what does it take to purchase a car in Japan? Well, it's not exactly a walk in the park or the most financially competent of systems, but if a set of wheels is what you're set on, then you must have, do or pay the following:

A driver's license: An international driver's license has a one-year validity, and those people staying over a year must obtain a Japanese driver's license. Some nationalities only need to have their current license translated into Japanese (UK citizens, for example), while others (Americans included), have to take the written and driving tests to obtain a Japanese license.

A parking space: You must prove that you have a place to park your car before you're allowed to buy one. This can be done through the police station by filling out the shakoshomeishou form. If you live in a house with a garage you'll have no problem, but otherwise expect to pay arms and legs to rent a parking space.

Taxes: These may or may not be included in the sale price, so make sure you check. There are three taxes to pay: acquisition tax and weight tax are required when you purchase a car, and an annual car tax will set you back ¥30,000 to ¥50,000, depending on the type of car.

Shakken: This is a combination inspection/insurance fee required every two years, regardless of the owner. So, if you purchase a used car and shakken is due next month, then guess what? It's your responsibility to get the car inspected and pay for any costs for maintenance/upgrades. Set aside at least ¥100,000 for this one.

Insurance: Shakken includes manda- tory insurance (kyousei hoken), but it only covers the very basics, so most people opt for private insurance to cover the fender benders and bicycle casualties.