Japan: The Automotive Industry Empire

If you have a car it has a good chance of being a Japanese brand. Japan is one of the largest car producers in the world. Its brands are the most respected and valued anywhere. 

Although several countries already have their national brands, the preference ends up being Japanese brands. The history of the automotive industry in Japan is ancient and has earned the position it enjoys today. 

Let's see how the automotive industry in Japan and how it stands today despite the huge financial problems facing the world due to the pandemic. 

Timeline of automobiles in Japan

The automotive industry in Japan is among the top three in the world since the year 1960. But it started in the year 1904.

1904 – Torao Yamaha produced the first nationally produced bus, the engine running on steam. 

1907 – Komanosuke Uchiyama produced the Takuri, the first all-Japanese car with a gasoline engine.

1910 – Kunisue built its first car and the following year manufactured the Tokyo model in cooperation with Tokyo Motor.

1911 – Kwaishinsha was founded and later started to manufacture a car called DAT.

1917 – The 1917 Mitsubishi Model A was based on Fiat's A3-3 design. This model was considered the first mass-produced car in Japan, with 22 units produced.

1920 –  Jitsuyo Jidosha Seizo, founded by William R. Gorham, began building the Gorham model and later the Lila.

1925 – Ford of Japan was founded and a factory was set up in Yokohama.

Japan: the empire of the automotive industry

1926 – Jitsuyo Jidosha Seizo merged with Kwaishinsha to form DAT Automobile Manufacturing, which today has become Nissan.

1927 – General Motors established its operations in Osaka. Chrysler went to Japan and also set up Kyoritsu Motors.

In 1924 to 1927 Hakuyosha built the Otomo model.

30's - Nissan cars were based on the Austin 7 and Graham-Paige designs, while the Toyota AA model was based on the Chrysler Airflow. Ohta Jidosha built cars based on Ford models, while Chiyoda built a car similar to a 1935 Pontiac and Sumida built a car similar to the LaSalle.

1936 – Toyota started building cars. Most vehicles were military trucks.

From 1925 and 1936, the Japanese subsidiaries of the three major US automakers (General Motors, Ford and Chrysler) produced a total of 208,967 vehicles.

Japan: the empire of the automotive industry
10 Japanese cars that were successful

That same year, the Japanese government passed the Automobile Manufacturing Industry Act, which was intended to promote the national automotive industry and reduce foreign competition.

1939 – Foreign manufacturers were forced out of Japan.

           Vehicle production shifted to truck production in the late 1930s due to Second Sino-Japanese War.

1958 – A new moment in the industry begins in Japan. The first model to be launched was the Subaru 360. Other important models were the Suzuki Fronte, Mitsubishi Minica, Mazda Carol and Honda N360.

60's - After World War II automotive production was limited, and until 1966 most production consisted of trucks.

Japanese manufacturers have launched a series of new kei cars (keijidōsha) mini-sized models in the domestic market. Scooters and motorcycles sold 1.47 million while kei cars brought in 36,000.

Japanese manufacturers started to compete in the domestic market.

1966 – The best-selling car of all time, the Toyota Corolla, is released.

The 70's - Passenger car exports have increased considerably compared to previous decades.

Mitsubishi represented by Dodge and Honda starting to sell their vehicles in U.S.

1975 – Passenger car exports rose from 100,000 in 1965 to 1 827 000.

1980 – Japanese manufacturers were gaining a large share of US and world markets.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Japanese automakers entered a phase of “hyperdesign” and “hyper-equipment”; a race towards less competitive products, but produced in a highly efficient manner.

2000 – Japan becomes the biggest car producer in the world.

2008 – The automotive industry took a leap.

2009 – Japan goes to second place in number of productions behind China.

2011 – Car production is affected by the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.

Japan's 6 Most Popular Car Brands


One of the biggest brands in the world and is among the oldest. The brand has Luxus as a division, which is a segment focused on luxury cars. 

Japan: the empire of the automotive industry


It is a very popular brand and its headquarters are in Yokohama. Its line of luxury cars is “Infiniti”.


It was one of the first brands to bring innovation to the automotive industry. Its headquarters are in Eisu, Tokyo. 


Its headquarters are in Minato, Tokyo. This brand has divisions in shipbuilding, finance, electronics, oil, gas and many others.


One of the largest motorcycle manufacturers in the world and also one of the largest producers of internal combustion engines. The brand sponsors Formula 1.


Its headquarters are in Fuchu, Hiroshima. It's a very popular car manufacturer. Responsible for Japan being the world leader in the sector. 

Japan: the empire of the automotive industry

Car Anime: Speed Racer

Speed Racer also known as Mach Go Go Go (マッハ). The anime is from 1960 and sought to portray everything that Japan already had in automotive technology as things that could still emerge. 

The anime is about car racing. And the protagonist is an 18 year old who drives the Mach 5 car, created by his father. 

Japan: the empire of the automotive industry

The main character's car is a dream car when it comes to technology. It is automatic and all accessories can be accessed by pressing the button. 

It resembles the Berlineta Ferrari Dino and the Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa and the noise of its engine recalls similarities with the Ferrari V12. The anime has the live action version. 

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