The early cars built by Japanese companies were simply copies of American or European designed cars.Yamaha built Japan's first in-country produced bus in 1904 and the first domestically built car was built by Uchiyama in 1907. But Japan's real contribution to the automotive industry wouldn't come about until well after WWII.
In the 1920s and 1930s Ford, General Motors and Chrysler opened subsidiaries in Japan to produce cars for the Japanese market. Realizing their inability to compete directly with the Big Three in automobile manufacturing the government of Japan enacted the Automobile Manufacturing Industry Law to give the domestic car industry the upper-hand.
Following WWII Japan's auto industry continued basing its cars on designs originating with Europe and America, but eventually, in the 1960s, their automotive industry forged its own path. As the economy of Japan grew so did the consumer demand for cars and the Japanese auto industry turned from following to leading the world in design and in manufacturing innovation.
In addition to meeting domestic demand, Japan invaded the foreign car markets and by the mid-1970s was exporting over 1.8 million cars per year. Perhaps the car that became most widely associated with Japanese cars was the Toyota Corolla which debuted in 1996 and two years later became the '2 selling import by 1968. For over forty years the Corolla has graced American driveways and became the hand-me-down car for a whole generation.
Initially Japanese cars were thought of as utilitarian, but early on efforts were underway to break out of that mold, starting with the 1967 2000GT featured in the James Bond movie You Only Live Twice. In production until 1970 the 2000GT wasn't just sporty looking, it broke both speed and endurance records as well. While the 2000GT was out of the price range of most car buyers the Datsun 240Z became the poor man's substitute and in 1990 the Mazda Miata practically re-invented the British roadster.
Finally after practically inventing the economy car class and then making impressive forays into the sports or muscle car class the Japanese car industry made it into the final frontier of luxury class vehicles with the among others the Toyota Lexus and the Honda Pilot.
|Art and Tech|