It has been 15 years since we've had a conversation with Sean Morris from Toprank International Vehicle Importers, and he has been one extremely busy dude in that time. Our paths originally crossed when he was a huge and invaluable contributor to our in-depth look at what it takes to import a car from Japan, a story that ran in 2005, and since then the Navy vet has continued to hustle at the vehicle importation game, most recently joining the Toprank USA team as Director. He reached out to us about our Craft Sports JDM story we published a few weeks back, and one thing led to another and before anyone knew it, we had weaseled our way into an invitation to come to Toprank and enjoy a tour while consuming massive amounts of JDM eye candy. You don't need to ask us twice!
Who is Sean and What is Toprank
Sean has been a car dealer his entire life, he says; his dad is also a car dealer, so it's sort of in the family. The Morrises came to the US from New Zealand in '80 and in '89 they began exporting cars from America to Japan. In '91 at the ripe age of 16, Sean went to Japan for the first time and was converted to the church of Nissan Skyline GT-R (which is to say, he became a fan) before heading to the US Navy a couple years later and serving for six years. After the Navy, he returned to the family business and then worked for Motorex (yes, THAT Motorex) from '99 to '02, and after that, "all kinds of other car business" that included among other things running an R34-based racing team and providing cars for the first three Fast & Furious movies, as well as advising on F&F 4.
Toprank Vehicle Importers in the US is a part of Toprank in Japan, a 20-year-old company that owns and runs a network of dealerships specializing in pre-owned cars; currently they have six Japanese locations as well as international sites in America and South Asia. Yaska Kosuge is the President of Toprank Vehicle Importers in America and, like Sean, is also a former Motorex employee, which is where the two first met. Yaska was looking for help with this new venture and Sean jumped aboard as Director, focusing in large part on sales and managing the compliance side of importing these cars.
It's very clear the guys at Toprank USA are hardcore enthusiasts, too. Sean has imported his share of R32 Skyline over the years for his collection and currently has a couple of GT-R track cars and a Skyline 26 Autech daily driver - an R32 sedan with a naturally aspirated RB26 - that we saw at Toprank. Yaska had his Midnight Purple II GT-R all opened up for us and it was pristine; in addition to the rich paint, it had an S1-spec RB26DETT under the hood and perfect restomod touches like the R34 GT-R front seats and NISMO LMGT4 Limited wheels. Sales Manager Brian Jannusch's Mk4 Supra also left us momentarily awestruck as we stumbled around the Toprank lot.
Going the Extra Mile
Between auction houses and dealers like Toprank, the JDM car importer space in the US has grown pretty crowded in the last year or so. Toprank USA sets itself apart in a few key ways; for one, they have the means to bring JDM cars into California compliance, which are essentially the toughest standards in the country. In fact, Toprank is set up to mitigate legal compliance regardless of what state you're registering the car for, but in particular Cali's additional hoops can be tough to navigate, which Toprank can handle (for a price, of course). That being said, Sean admits the vast majority of Toprank USA's business - about 90 percent - is from outside of California.
Like Craft Sports JDM, Toprank's supply of cars comes primarily from private parties in Japan, which allows them to track the vehicle's history a little more thoroughly in many cases. Cars go through at least two comprehensive inspections, one in Japan and one in the US, and Toprank USA is licensed and bonded. Toprank logistics between Japan and the US - which includes lining up inspectors, technical support, and shipping, as well as putting up capital to buy the vehicle in Japan - make it relatively easy for them to move cars between the two countries. Sean points out that there will always be those who say it can be done for cheaper, and it can be, but the process will never be as turnkey or as headache-free as what you get from Toprank.
Imported Vehicle Market Insights
We asked Sean to give us a snapshot of what business has been like for Toprank USA over the last year or so, and in a few words, it's been gangbusters pretty much since late spring '20. Demand is high, he says, adding, "Everyone we talk to in the specialty car business - financers, insurers, etc. - say everything is selling; not so much run-of-the-mill used car or new car sales, but specialty vehicles - like exotics and supercars, and imported cars - are really selling these days. People can't travel because of COVID restrictions, and they're looking for something to spend their money on, and that includes cars imported from Japan."
This swing in consumer habits is partly due to demographics, we've found. Many who grew up influenced by those early Fast and the Furious movies and video games like Gran Turismo of the late '90s/early '00s (and, yes, even motivated by their favorite tuner mag, Super Street) are now of age and financial means to spend money on a dream car. The inclination is not unlike what has happened for previous generations of American hot rod and muscle car enthusiasts, and in a weird way is sort of driven by fear. Fans of these cars are either afraid of "missing out" or afraid of how much higher the prices of these cars might go.
To this, Sean adds an interesting bit of context. In five years of business, Toprank USA has sold around 600 cars total; in Motorex's six years in operation, they only sold around 120 cars. Toprank does more than that in a single year.
What's in Stock
Toprank USA's bread and butter are Nissan Skyline sales, particularly GT-R; currently they sell more R32 than any other platform. The silver R32 covered in plastic pictured above is one very low miles example, with fewer than 2,500 miles on the odometer. While the R32 is Toprank's best seller, R34 are in high demand, and since they aren't legal in the US until '24, Toprank is housing orders in Japan until they can bring them over. For a full reckoning of what Toprank USA currently has available, visit the inventory page at their website.
R33 are legal and also offered, and if you need more doors than what a coupe can provide, Toprank has Skyline sedans (we know; only the parents among us will care).
Hondas also move pretty quickly at Toprank - the day we were there, we laid eyes on a few yummy JDM Honda, including a CR-X del Sol TransTop and an NSX in super-rare Neutron Pearl white.
On the Toyota front, Toprank has Supra (duh) including the Veilside-clad A80 pictured above and a Mark 4 in full TRD kit. They also have a Mk3 Supra Twin Turbo R for sale, which is outfitted in a 2.5L 1JZ and not the 7M straight-6 we got in the states.
Not everything at Toprank is sporty. Exhibit A would be the Kei cars that move through the dealership, like these Nissan Figaro and Honda Acty pickup truck. TR also had a couple of Pao on hand, which like the Figaro are from Nissan's Pike Factory special project group.
Drift kids should be pleased as punch to hear Toprank has a couple of X90 Toyota Chaser Tourer sedans in its inventory. For the JDM uninitiated, the car is a twin-turbo, 2.5-liter 1JZ-powered, manual transmission rear-wheel drive in a four-door that looks like a Camry. We're not sure who Toyota had in mind when they made this car but lots of drifters have taken to the platform and now one can be had in the good ol' US of A.