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The Chevy Astro Had a Cult Following in Japan

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author photo by Doug DeMuro March 2017

Here's something you probably didn't know: The Chevy Astro had a huge following in Japan. I know what you're thinking. You don't remember the Chevy Astro. What kind of sports car was it? Was it a full-size sedan?

And then it hits you. The van.

I'm completely, 100-percent serious when I say that the Chevy Astro van -- generally derided in the United States for being ungainly, horribly built and far-too-truckish for most of the minivan set -- has a huge following in Japan. So huge that Fortune ran an article about the phenomenon in 1997, noting that "the Astro has developed a passionate following among affluent Japanese yuppies." In 2012, a story in Automotive News recounted a Japanese pop star who was caught speeding at 75 mph in a 50 zone -- in a Chevy Astro.

So why do the Japanese love the Astro? Well, for starters, it isn't "the Japanese," but rather a small subset of Japanese people -- and they seem to be interested in American culture, the overall unusual boxiness of the vehicle and just how well this ultra-practical, inefficient van seems to represent America as a whole. Overall, however, it seems to be popular because it's different, and unusual, and not widely available in Japan. If that sounds familiar, it should: It's also the reason why tens of zillions of young American car shoppers want "JDM" vehicles from Japan that aren't offered here in the United States.

Interestingly, the Japanese Chevy Astro love goes beyond just the vehicle itself: There's a whole Japanese community devoted to modifying them. In fact, if you Google "Chevy Astro Japan," you'll find dozens of photos of Astros lowered, or painted in eye-catching color schemes, or highly modified in other ways. It's almost amazing to see them, considering it's been years since I've even seen one on the road in America that had all its wheel covers.

Given that the newest Astro is now 12 years old, I'm curious whether the Japanese Astro fad is dying off -- or if it's still around, with sections of Japanese Cars and Coffee events cordoned off for groups with names like the Astro Club of Southeast Tokyo. What a club that would be.

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The Chevy Astro Had a Cult Following in Japan - Autotrader