2012 Volkswagen Up! two-door hatchback - red, front three-quarter view

The initial prognosis for the Volkswagen Up! in Japan is going the same direction as the name of the car: three weeks after launch, 3,000 orders have been placed in Nippon. That beats Ford's sales total for the entire year and is almost a month's worth of BMW imports. Posting those numbers, Japan's Nikkei newspaper says the Up! "may beat the Golf subcompact to become the German automaker's most successful new-car launch in Japan."

The backdrop to this is that European and US automaker groups have been protesting what they see as barriers to the Japanese auto market, with many wary of entering into free trade agreements with the island nation. To put some numbers to it, VW led the table for share of the import market through September of this year, with 18 percent and 41,971 cars sold. That, however, is in a market expected to be worth 4.3 million cars this year, which would put VW at 1.3 percent of the total if the numbers before the Up! range's launch held steady. It's a vertiginous drop after VW, though. Audi, in fifth for yearly sales, has 18,356, while Fiat, in tenth, has 4,353. And those numbers are way up, with the top ten automakers save for Nissan posting meaty double-digit gains over last year. The Europeans are also wary of what has happened on The Continent after a free trade agreement with Korea has given a huge boost to Korean imports.

As far as VW Japan is concerned, it has no concerns. With Up! pricing competitive with the Japan-only kei-car segment, a VW rep told the Asahi Shimbun that their offering will "squarely challenge the small-car market" and that even if "the barrier against imported cars is lowered, we will still have opportunities." The German company wants to more than double its annual sales there to 110,000 cars by 2018. The Up! is giving it a good start.