Japan’s Prime Minister has been among President Trump’s greatest international boosters. In the modern era, Japan and the US are strong allies and Abe has worked hard to strengthen those ties, praising the US in general and Trump specifically since before the inauguration.
Unfortunately for him, Japan has been neglected as a regional partner in the efforts to rein in North Korea; it is the largest ally to be snubbed in trade exemptions for the proposed tariffs (from The Japan Times); and now President Trump is showing signs of ensuring Japan as a tariff nation with an anecdote that shows a fundamental misunderstanding regarding crash impact requirements for cars in Japan.
The Washington Post published the transcript of a recent trade speech where Trump talked about a bowling ball test:
They actually, one of the car companies actually had a car made and it was the most environmentally perfect car, cost them a fortune. They spent a fortune. And they had everything, the highest quality that you can have. Everything was far better than any car they ever sent to us. They spent three or four hundred thousand dollars for a car that would sell for like 35,000, right? Not a good deal. But they wanted to see if they could get it in. And it, they were going crazy. Four days went by. Then five days. And they were ready to approve it and they said, no no, we have to do one more test. It’s called the bowling ball test, do you know what that is? That’s where they take a bowling ball from 20 feet up in the air and they drop it on the hood of the car. And if the hood dents, then the car doesn’t qualify. Well, guess what, the roof dented a little bit, and they said, nope, this car doesn’t qualify. It’s horrible, the way we’re treated. It’s horrible.
In actuality, EU and Japan regulators require cars to meet external safety standards for pedestrians in low-speed crashes and, as yet, US car manufacturers don’t see enough of a value in those markets to manufacture US models under those standards. They shoot a 10-pound rounded weight at the car to see if the impact dissipates enough, which means the metals will dent more easily and the windows fracture quickly. American buyers, on the other hand, generally disfavor cars that are not at least mildly damage-resistant to external collisions.
Trump was correct in saying cars are being rejected but got every other significant detail of the story wrong.
This matters to Abe. He’s embattled at home, where his approval is under 40% after the revelation that documents associated to a friend’s veterinary school that was the beneficiary of a sweetheart government land deal were secretly altered to remove the names of Abe, his wife, and a Cabinet minister. From Reuters :
He needs a win right now. He’s counting on President Trump to give him that, and that was the reason for the meeting at Mar-A-Lago on Tuesday. The success of Abe’s effort will come down to whether Trump values the needs of his allies and supporters more than his desire to maximize the footprint of his tariffs.