The History of Japanese Autos

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The Japanese automotive industry has its roots in bicycle repair shops and manufacturing. Early cars were made in bicycle shops, and early car companies, like Honda, started by making engines for motorized bicycles. From humble origins, the Japanese auto industry has evolved into one of the most respected manufacturing industries in the world.

1902 to 1914

  • The first automobile to be made in Japan was made in 1902 by Komanosuke Uchiyama in Ginza from a gasoline engine that had been brought back from the United States. He produced the first entirely Japanese-made car in 1907. In 1904, Torao Yamaha built the first Japanese-made bus, which could hold 10 passengers. By 1914, Mitsubishi Zosen was manufacturing its first car, called the Model A.

1930 to 1945

  • American car manufacturers had begun building cars in Japan for the Japanese market and were, by 1930, producing nearly 20,000 units per year. Japanese domestic manufacturers were producing fewer than 500 units. By 1935, industrialization was well underway in Japan with as many as 16 companies producing cars. In 1936, the Japanese government passed the Automobile Manufacturing Industries Act, which was designed to break the American car monopoly. Companies formed under this 1936 act included Toyota and Datsun.

1955 to 1965

  • World War II brought the requirement that Japanese zaibatsu, or industrial conglomerates, disband. Many of these companies re-formed after the occupation. The Japanese government saw the importance of restarting the domestic car market and took steps to stimulate innovation. In 1955, Suzuki began production of 360cc Suzlite. Fuji followed with its 360cc Subaru 360, and Mitsubishi introduced its Mitsubishi 500, a small, fuel-efficient 500cc car priced affordably. 1960 saw the introduction by Toyo Kogyo, who would eventually become Mazda, of a 360cc coupe. Toyota's 700cc couple was introduced in 1961. All of these cars were the result of a government program urging carmakers to produce small, highly fuel-efficient vehicles at an affordable price for the domestic market.

1965 to 1975

  • The Japanese Automotive Manufacturer's Association (JAMA) was established in 1967. JAMA was formed to help auto manufacturers deal with changes in Japan's economy, such as liberalized automotive imports, that resulted from Japan's entry into the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). Japan's auto manufacturers realized they would need more automation in automobile production and began using advanced digital manufacturing technologies and robotics in the early 1970s. Management structures were changed to match newer manufacturing technologies and techniques.

    Between the mid-1960s and mid-1970s, Japanese car purchasing exploded. In 1962, 14 percent of households owned cars. By 1975 it had increased to more than 50 percent. This influx of cash allowed Japanese car manufacturers to innovate in areas of manufacturing technology and engine design, resulting in the development of the rotary engine by Toyo Kogyo.

1975 to 1985

  • The Oil Crisis of 1973 created a global demand for more fuel-efficient cars. With American car manufacturers having focused for years on high-power, large engines, Japan was in a good position, with its lineup of smaller engines designed for fuel efficiency, to enter many global markets, especially the United States. Because Japanese cars were already light, they were one of the first to use innovative materials, such as plastics and high tension steel sheeting, to further reduce weight.

1985 to present

  • By 1985, Japanese automakers had been established as world-class operations. Innovations in manufacturing systems, management systems, and automotive materials were at levels that wouldn't be matched by other nations until the mid-1990s. Japanese manufacturers focused on product improvement, including technological innovations. One area of focus was making cars recyclable. By 1985, 75 percent of a Japanese car, by weight, could be recycled. Japanese manufacturers also focused on safety improvements. Japan began manufacturing cars in local markets, such as the United States, as a response to protectionist sentiments. By the mid-1990s, Japanese manufacturers had entered the luxury car markets with high-end co-brands, such as Acura and Lexus, being produced to compete with European manufacturers like BMW and Mercedes-Benz.

References

  • Photo Credit Photo: Agata Urbaniak, stock.xchng
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