Ueno Motors

This is a fictional car company that I’ve done a few sample cars of in Automation.

Ueno Motors, named after its controlling family (surname example), is a car company headquartered in outlying Hokkaido. In broad terms, it’s followed the industry’s path. However, I’ve made it more successful than my previous interpretation/version of it-then, it was in US terms a wheezing bottom-feeder. Here, it’s a more successful niche manufacturer.

Ueno has been defined by paradoxes. Its cars, for the most part, are knowingly sedate, knowingly bland. Yet its actual business exists in an attitude of frenzied pushes, the kind of risky lunges one must make to compensate for structural weaknesses. Ueno has, for the most part, succeeded in this. It went upmarket in a large way, because it needed higher per-car margins to counteract everything from the vagarities of currency and trade to the costs of shipping parts from Honshu-and did so with its own brand name, not creating a sub-brand.

This sort of strange mixture leads it to do varied things-it has rushed plants over into markets where it fears being shut out, yet is hesitant to expand. Its leadership has moved with surprising speed and ruthlessness in ditching its lowest-margin products, yet persists in making (as one example) clunky four-speed transmissions as a cost-saving measure.

Brand image for Ueno is clear and has been so for decades, with its mainline models keeping the same names for very good reasons: This is a relaxing car, a reward for a hard life’s work. Thus squishy comfort is (generally) prioritized over sportiness. When styling is emphasized, it’s done in a retro fashion, because Ueno, unlike many other car companies, does not shy away from having their vehicles be labeled “old people cars”.

Even by the grueling standards of the auto industry, Ueno is notoriously difficult to work for or with. While the family and company’s reputation for “thrift” has played a role in the legitimate accomplishment of keeping it alive and independent for over a century, it manifests itself in obvious and terrible ways. In Hokkaido proper, its already-natural clout is furthered by its status as the area’s largest industrial employer-one does not step on the toes of such a beast lightly.

In automotive terms, Ueno offers a fairly conventional lineup of vehicles, ranging from low-premium to the occasional $60,000+ flagship. Certain niches, especially low-margin ones, are avoided-Ueno has long since stopped its kei car business and relies on badge-engineering deals for some “niche” models (including keis in the JDM). But not others-it was successful by having one of the last personal luxury coupes remaining, grabbing a few big sales off a two-door, brougham-upped version of an otherwise-conventional car.

Ueno achieves decent sales in North America and Eurasia, and is a surprisingly big fish in the shrinking pond of the JDM.

In-game, Ueno represents one of the hardest challenges-making a car that’s just a little bit “premium”, not on the extremes of econobox or supercar. And some of my desires clash with the company ethos (c’mon, you’d think stately luxurious penny-pinchers would greenlight an engine with an exotic five-valves-per-cylinder head?), but it’s still fun to play.

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