Auto Produce Boss has earned a solid reputation as a tuner shop in Japan but has mostly remained a secret to the U.S. market, as we are force fed only select tuners from Option DVDs and such. This limited exposure to the talents laying in Japan limits our knowledge. We wanted to shed some light on this gem of the tuning market, so after the Turbo magazine Tokyo Auto Salon Tour we piled on jackets, hats, and gloves and took the bullet train from Tokyo heading north.
Auto Produce Boss is located within the snowy summits of Nagano, Japan. While Nagano is mostly known to us as the host city of the 1998 Winter Olympics, it also houses the headquarters for not just Boss but also Endless, K's Office, and Neko Corporation. We were fortunate to have the opportunity to sit down and chat with Mr. Fujioka, founder and owner of Auto Produce Boss, over a curry utlet and chicken giblets lunch.
Folding ourselves into a tight configuration to fit under a low table on tatami mats, our barrage of questions began for Mr. Fujioka. In between dishes of food and through a haze of cigarette smoke he patiently answered our queries via his employee and translator, Phi Phung. We started off with the basics of wanting to get to know Mr. Fujioka and his history about how he got into cars. It turns out that Mr. Fujioka has been tuning cars for 15 years. He started his career in automotives with rally racing and then driving. He won a California state championship as a rally driver 20-some years ago. Mr. Fujioka participated in Gymkana and dirt track racing events before hanging up his helmet to focus on tuning.
He is completely self-taught and learned from the beginning how to computer-tune vehicles. In turn, Mr. Fujioka now finds computer tuning quite easy since he's been doing it for so many years. He says that to obtain the tools to do ECU tuning is difficult, but once you have them it's easy. Mr. Fujioka also does all of the R&D himself, without the assistance of manufacturers.
Auto Produce Boss is famous for their talent in ROM tuning. Mr. Fujioka constructs his own base maps due to his extensive experience with factory maps. His personal preference is for ROM tuning, which he feels is better than Power FC or V Pro tuning, even though both methods make the same power. In his tuning, Mr. Fujioka uses a Z32 mass airflow (MAF) sensor instead of a map sensor. One reason he prefers the use of MAF sensors is its ability to automatically adjust for altitude. Since American customers typically want to make big power they don't use MAF, even though MAF is easier because it's not dependent upon the weather. Even with Boss's predilections for ROM tuning their Impreza is V Pro tuned and the RS*R Supra they manage is tuned by a Power FC. (Incidentally, we were the first Americans to see the crashed RS*R Supra, which is at Boss for repairs. He showed us the extensive damage but we weren't allowed to take close-up photos.)
When asked to compare track and street tuning, Mr. Fujioka states that he feels they are similar. He explains that track and drift tuning settings are different but they are getting more similar as drivers are getting used to it.
Mr. Fujioka points out that a difference in Japanese tuning is that they usually look at how all parts (modifications) go together. In the U.S. it is more common for customers to purchases aftermarket products one by one, individually. In Japan, Boss views selling parts to customers as a consultation. They sit down with the customer and talk with them about what their needs are and what options they have to offer and together they decide what setup the customer will buy. (When I call shops to order a part for a project car I am lucky if I can get anyone on the phone, let alone anyone to actually sit down and interview me.) As such, customers typically purchase the whole setup, that is, the series of parts they have decided upon, all from one shop.
Another difference is that cars face rigorous safety inspections in Japan before they can be re-registered. Cars are subjected to an extensive inspection and often many parts are replaced before the car gets the seal of approval. Mr. Fujioka explains that it is during these inspection times that customers often decide to upgrade the parts on their vehicles. Since they are going to have to pay for a bunch of new parts anyway, they often figure they might as well spend a little more and purchase some performance products. We were surprised to hear that these aftermarket products pass the safety inspections. Mr. Fujioka explains that they just detune the power of the vehicle for the inspection and then boost it back up after.
In addition to working on private customer's vehicles, Boss also works with automotive manufacturers, which shall remain unnamed, to develop parts for them. Other aftermarket parts companies also employ Boss for product development. It speaks to the quality of the innovations and ideas that come from Boss that so many aftermarket manufacturers hire them. Mr. Fujioka is deeply involved with the day-to-day operations of Boss, which ensures the quality of their work. In fact, he does all of the shop's titanium welding himself.
After hearing about the operations of Boss, we steered the conversation to Mr. Fujioka's personal thoughts on all things motorsports. Our favorites tidbits of information we gleaned are that Mr. Fujioka is an F1 Toyota fan who hates Honda. He thinks their chassis and trannys suck (he feels the chassis flex too much) but that their engines are okay. Mr. Fujioka feels that Hondas drive crooked because the suspension is no good. He says that Toyotas have the best suspension and chassis but is quick to point out that he has owned every single model of the Honda Civic that has come out, so it is not for lack of trying. That is, Mr. Fujioka has given adequate comparison opportunities but has found Toyotas to be best.
We also questioned Mr. Fujioka about future trends in the tuner scene. He reports that the Japanese market is moving towards the naturally aspirated (NA) market. Mr. Fujioka feels that superchargers are too heavy and thus they are not often used. He points out, however, that with turbos you have the advantage of setting the powerband where you want it, which you cannot do with superchargers. When asked what types of cars he likes to build, turbo or NA, Mr. Fujioka replied that building turbo cars are his favorite but when it comes to driving he prefers the NA feel. He feels the best cars to tune are the Nissan 350Z and the Subaru Impreza, while his personal favorite cars are the AE86 and the Supra.
Having just taken in the Tokyo Auto Salon (TAS), we asked Mr. Fujioka his impressions of the show this year. He felt there were fewer businesses present as well as fewer new products on display compared to other years. Mr. Fujioka deemed this lack of new products due to the fact that there were no new sporty or performance vehicle models released in Japan this past year. While the Toyota Lexus line was introduced in Japan it is very pricey and thus has no customer base. He thinks that once new models are released it will create new business as companies develop new products for these models. Additionally, Mr. Fujioka felt that fewer companies attended TAS this year because overall business has been slow in the industry this year.
In closing our interview we asked Mr. Fujioka about his plans for the future of Boss. First and foremost, he plans to expand into the U.S. market, initially via a BMW product line. This is good news for U.S. consumers who have yet been able to access their products.
By now our plates have been polished clean and our stomachs are full. The smoke weighs heavy in the air. My long legs have fallen asleep, as they are not used to such contortions. We finish things up and head back to Boss for some more photos.
Stepping out into the brisk Nagano winter air I reflect upon the differences from my part of the world-the weather is so vastly different from the California sun I am used to, the setting is different. At Boss, the tuning styles are different from what I usually see at U.S. shops, the customer service and interactions are different, etc. With so many differences I think about how much we can learn. Within diversity arises the opportunity to be exposed to alternative ways of doing things. There is more than one way to make a car go fast. For this I am excited to see what Boss's future in the U.S. has in store for us.