Automotive industry in Japan

The automotive industry in Japan is one of the most prominent and largest industries in the world. Japan has been in the top three of the countries with most cars manufactured since the 1960s, surpassing Germany. The automotive industry in Japan rapidly increased from the 1970s to the 1990s (when it was oriented both for domestic use and worldwide export) and in the 1980s and 1990s, overtook the U.S. as the production leader with up to 13 million cars per year manufactured and significant exports. After massive ramp-up by China in the 2000s and fluctuating U.S. output, Japan is currently the third largest automotive producer in the world with an annual production of 9.9 million automobiles in 2012.[1] Japanese investments helped grow the auto industry in many countries throughout the last few decades.

Japanese zaibatsu (business conglomerates) began building their first automobiles in the middle to late 1910s. The companies went about this by either designing their own trucks (the market for passenger vehicles in Japan at the time was small), or partnering with a European brand to produce and sell their cars in Japan under license. Such examples of this are Isuzu partnering with Wolseley Motors (UK), Nissan partnering with British automaker Austin, and the Mitsubishi Model A, which was based upon the Fiat Tipo 3. The demand for domestic trucks was greatly increased by the Japanese military buildup before World War II, causing many Japanese manufacturers to break out of their shells and design their own vehicles. In the 1970s Japan was the pioneer in robotics manufacturing of vehicles.

The country is home to a number of companies that produce cars, construction vehicles, motorcycles, ATVs, and engines. Japanese automotive manufacturers include Toyota, Honda, Daihatsu, Nissan, Suzuki, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Subaru, Isuzu, Kawasaki, Yamaha, and Mitsuoka.

Cars designed in Japan have won the European Car of the Year, International Car of the Year, and World Car of the Year awards many times. Japanese vehicles have had worldwide influence, and no longer have the stigma they had in the 1950s and 1960s when they first emerged internationally.


Early years

In 1904, Torao Yamaha produced the first domestically manufactured bus, which was powered by a steam engine. In 1907, Komanosuke Uchiyama produced the Takuri, the first entirely Japanese-made gasoline engine car. The Kunisue Automobile Works built the Kunisue in 1910, and the following year manufactured the Tokyo in cooperation with Tokyo Motor Vehicles Ltd. In 1911, Kaishinsha Motorcar Works was established and later began manufacturing a car called the DAT. In 1920, Jitsuyo Jidosha Seizo Co., founded by William R. Gorham, began building the Gorham and later the Lila. The company merged with Kaishinsha in 1926 to form the DAT Automobile Manufacturing Co. (later to evolve into Nissan Motors). From 1924 to 1927, Hakuyosha Ironworks Ltd. built the Otomo. Toyota, a textile manufacturer, began building cars in 1936. Most early vehicles, however, were trucks produced under military subsidy. Isuzu, Yanmar and Daihatsu initially focused on diesel engine development.

Cars built in Japan before World War II tended to be based on European or American models. The 1917 Mitsubishi Model A was based on the Fiat A3-3 design. (This model was considered to be the first mass-produced car in Japan, with 22 units produced.) In the 1930s, Nissan Motors' cars were based on the Austin 7 and Graham-Paige designs, while the Toyota AA model was based on the Chrysler Airflow. Ohta built cars in the 1930s based on Ford models, while Chiyoda built a car resembling a 1935 Pontiac, and Sumida built a car similar to a LaSalle.[2][3]

Automobile manufacture from Japanese companies was struggling, despite investment efforts by the Japanese Government. The 1923 Great Kantō earthquake devastated most of Japan's fledgling infrastructure and truck and construction equipment manufacturing benefited from recovery efforts. Yanase & Co., Ltd. (株式会社ヤナセ Yanase Kabushiki gaisha) was an importer of American-made cars to Japan and contributed to disaster recovery efforts by importing GMC trucks and construction equipment. By bringing in American products, Japanese manufacturers were able to examine the imported vehicles and develop their own products.

From 1925 until the beginning of World War II, Ford and GM[4] had factories in Japan, where they dominated the Japanese market. The Ford Motor Company of Japan was established in 1925 and a production plant was set up in Yokohama. General Motors established operations in Osaka in 1927. Chrysler also came to Japan and set up Kyoritsu Motors.[5] Between 1925 and 1936, the United States Big Three automakers' Japanese subsidiaries produced a total of 208,967 vehicles, compared to the domestic producers total of 12,127 vehicles. In 1936, the Japanese government passed the Automobile Manufacturing Industry Law, which was intended to promote the domestic auto industry and reduce foreign competition; ironically, this stopped the groundbreaking of an integrated Ford plant in Yokohama, modeled on Dagenham in England and intended to serve the Asian market, that would have established Japan as a major exporter. Instead by 1939, the foreign manufacturers had been forced out of Japan. Vehicle production was shifted in the late 1930s to truck production due to the Second Sino-Japanese War.[6][7]

During World War II, Toyota, Nissan, Isuzu and Kurogane built trucks and motorcycles for the Imperial Japanese Army, with Kurogane introducing the world's first mass-produced four-wheel-drive car, called the Kurogane Type 95 in 1936. For the first decade after World War II, auto production was limited, and until 1966 most production consisted of trucks (including three-wheeled vehicles). Thereafter passenger cars dominated the market. Japanese car designs also continued to imitate or be derived from European and American designs.[8] Exports were very limited in the 1950s, adding up to only 3.1% of the total passenger car production of the decade.[9]

1960s to today

During the 1960s, Japanese automakers launched a bevy of new kei cars in their domestic market; scooters and motorcycles remained dominant, with sales of 1.47 million in 1960 versus a mere 36,000 kei cars.[10] These tiny automobiles usually featured very small engines (under 360cc, but were sometimes fitted with engines of up to 600cc for export) to keep taxes much lower than larger cars. The average person in Japan was now able to afford an automobile, which boosted sales dramatically and jumpstarted the auto industry toward becoming what it is today. The first of this new era, actually launched in 1958, was the Subaru 360. It was known as the "Lady Beetle", comparing its significance to the Volkswagen Beetle in Germany. Other significant models were the Suzuki Fronte, Mitsubishi Minica, Mazda Carol, and the Honda N360.

The keis were very minimalist motoring, however, much too small for most family car usage. The most popular economy car segment in the sixties was the 700-800 cc class, embodied by the Toyota Publica, Mitsubishi Colt 800, and the original Mazda Familia. By the end of the sixties, however, these (often two-stroke) cars were being replaced by full one-litre cars with four-stroke engines, a move which was spearheaded by Nissan's 1966 Sunny.[11] All other manufacturers quickly followed suit, except for Toyota who equipped their Corolla with a 1.1-litre engine - the extra 100 cc were heavily touted in period advertising. These small family cars took a bigger and bigger share of an already expanding market. All vehicles sold in Japan were taxed yearly based on exterior dimensions and engine displacement. This was established by legislation passed in 1950 that established tax brackets on two classifications; dimension regulations and engine displacement. The taxes were a primary consideration as to which vehicles were selected by Japanese consumers, and guided manufacturers as to what type of vehicles the market would buy.

Export expansion

Exports of passenger cars increased nearly twohundred-fold in the sixties compared to the previous decade, and were now up to 17.0 percent of the total production.[9] This though, was still only the beginning. Rapidly increasing domestic demand and the expansion of Japanese car companies into foreign markets in the 1970s further accelerated growth. Effects of the 1973 Arab Oil Embargo accelerated vehicle exports along with the exchange rate of the Japanese yen to the U.S. Dollar, UK Pound, and West German Deutsche Mark. Passenger car exports rose from 100,000 in 1965 to 1,827,000 in 1975. Automobile production in Japan continued to increase rapidly after the 1970s, as Mitsubishi (as Dodge vehicles) and Honda began selling their vehicles in the US. Even more brands came to America and abroad during the 1970s, and by the 1980s, the Japanese manufacturers were gaining a major foothold in the US and world markets.

In the early 1970s, the Japanese electronics manufacturers began producing integrated circuits (ICs), microprocessors and microcontrollers for the automobile industry, including ICs and microcontrollers for in-car entertainment, automatic wipers, electronic locks, dashboard, and engine control. The Japanese automobile industry widely adopted ICs years before the American automobile industry.[12]

Japanese cars became popular with British buyers in the early 1970s, with Nissan's Datsun badged cars (the Nissan brand was not used on British registered models until 1983) proving especially popular and earning a reputation in Britain for their reliability and low running costs, although rust was a major problem. In the 1960s Japanese manufacturers began to compete head-on in the domestic market, model for model. This was exemplified by the "CB-war" between the Toyota Corona and Nissan's Bluebird. While this initially led to benefits for consumers, before long R&D expenditures swelled. Towards the late 1980s and early 1990s Japanese automobile manufacturers had entered a stage of "Hyper-design" and "Hyper-equipment"; an arms race leading to less competitive products albeit produced in a highly efficient manner.[13]

World leader

With Japanese manufacturers producing very affordable, reliable, and popular cars throughout the 1990s, Japan became the largest car producing nation in the world in 2000. However, its market share has decreased slightly in recent years, particularly due to old and new competition from South Korea, China and India. Nevertheless, Japan's car industry continues to flourish, its market share has risen again, and in the first quarter of 2008 Toyota surpassed American General Motors to become the world's largest car manufacturer.[14] Today, Japan is the third largest automobile market and, until China recently overtook them, was the largest car producer in the world. Still, automobile export remains one of the country's most profitable exports and is a cornerstone of recovery plan for the latest economic crisis. Even though Japan has been taken over by Mainland China as the world's largest car producer, Japanese imports continue to be widely used on streets and highways in the Chinese special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macau.

Timeline of the Japanese car industry


Production volumes by manufacturer

The following are vehicle production volumes for Japanese vehicle manufacturers, according to the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association (JAMA).[16]

Passenger cars
Manufacturer 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
Toyota 3,849,3533,631,1462,543,7152,993,7142,473,5463,170,000
Nissan 982,8701,095,661780,4951,008,1601,004,6661,035,726
Honda 1,288,5771,230,621812,298941,558687,948996,832
Suzuki 1,061,7671,059,456758,057915,391811,689896,781
Mazda 952,2901,038,725693,598893,323798,060830,294
Daihatsu 648,289641,322551,275534,586479,956633,887
Subaru 403,428460,515357,276437,443366,518551,812
Mitsubishi 758,038770,667365,447586,187536,142448,598
Other 25300000
Total 9,944,6379,928,1436,862,1618,310,3627,158,5258,554,219
Manufacturer 2007 2008 2009
Toyota 291,008271,544178,954
Suzuki 156,530158,779150,245
Daihatsu 138,312151,935132,980
Isuzu 236,619250,692118,033
Nissan 188,788189,005109,601
Mitsubishi 88,04583,27661,083
Hino 101,909101,03762,197
Subaru 72,42264,40151,123
Mitsubishi Fuso 131,055115,57349,485
Honda 43,26833,76028,626
Mazda 43,22139,96523,577
UD Trucks 44,39845,98318,652
Other 2,4452,449545
Total 1,538,0201,508,399985,101
Manufacturer 2007 2008 2009
Toyota 85,776109,69869,605
Mitsubishi Fuso 10,22510,6114,982
Nissan 7,4228,4164,479
Hino 4,9845,1794,473
Isuzu 3,6683,2212,077
UD Trucks 1,5951,9771,179
Total 113,670139,10286,795

See also


  1. Toyota raises profits forecast as recovery continues, BBC News, 7 February 2012
  2. The New Illustrated Encyclopedia of Automobiles by David Burgess Wise; Wellfleet Press; Secaucus, New Jersey 1992 ISBN 1-55521-808-3
  3. Automobiles of the World by Joseph H. Wherry; Chilton Book Company; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 1968
  4. GM early history in Japan
  5. "About Kyoritsu". Kyoritsu Seiki Co. Ltd. Kyoritsu Seiki Co. Ltd. Retrieved 22 December 2016.
  6. Cars of the Thirties and Forties by Michael Sedgwick; Crescent Books; ISBN 978-0-517-32051-8
  7. "Remade in Japan" Los Angeles Times June 6, 1996
  8. Torrey, Volta, ed. (November 1952). "New Japanese Cars Follow U.S., English Styling". Popular Science. 161 (5): 136–137.
  9. Moser, Robert (1971), Logoz, Arthur (ed.), "Personenwagen-Weltproduktion" [Global passenger car production], Auto-Universum 1971 (in German), Zürich, Switzerland: Verlag Internationale Automobil-Parade AG, XIV: 65
  10. "Establishing a Mass Production System". About JAMA: Japan's Auto Industry. Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association. Archived from the original on 2009-07-18.
  11. Ikeda, Eizo; Sonobe, Hiroshi (June 1974). "Road Test: Datsun 100A". Motor Magazine International.
  12. "Trends in the Semiconductor Industry: 1970s". Semiconductor History Museum of Japan. Retrieved 27 June 2019.
  13. Lee, Chunli (April 2001). "Chinas Automobilindustrie in der Globalisierung" [China's automobile industry in globalisation] (PDF). Berichte des Arbeitsbereichs Chinaforschung (in German). Bremen, Germany: Universität Bremen (15).
  14. Bunkley, Nick (2008-04-24). "G.M. Says Toyota Has Lead in Global Sales Race". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-04-26.
  15. Benjamin, Daniel K. (September 1999). "Voluntary Export Restraints on Automobiles". PERC Reports: Volume 17, No. 3. Property & Environment Research Center. Archived from the original on 2009-02-16. Retrieved 2008-11-18. In May 1981, with the American auto industry mired in recession, Japanese car makers agreed to limit exports of passenger cars to the United States. This "voluntary export restraint" (VER) program, initially supported by the Reagan administration, allowed only 1.68 million Japanese cars into the U.S. each year. The cap was raised to 1.85 million cars in 1984, and to 2.30 million in 1985, before the program was terminated in 1994
  16. "JAMA Active matrix database system". Retrieved 2013-04-02.

Further reading

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