For all of Elon Musk’s domination of the burgeoning electric vehicle business, Tesla Inc. is struggling to get traction in Japan, a market he put on a pedestal early in the automaker’s early days.

The day after taking the electric carmaker public in June 2010, the first Roadster sports cars shipped to Asia weren't destined for Shanghai — they went to Yokohama. Four years later, the chief executive officer handed over the first Model S sedans during a splashy ceremony on the 52nd floor of a Tokyo tower.

On both occasions, Musk set the bar high, as he is wont to do. He called Japan a natural market for the Roadster, later predicting it would be Tesla's No. 2 source of sales over time. He said during the Model S event that Tesla looked forward to the country being one of its most important markets in the world.