Japan, being one of the most powerful economies in the world, has also grown to become one of the most prominent and the largest automotive manufacturers worldwide. It ranks alongside United States and Germany in the list of top three car manufacturers since the 1960s.
The automotive industry in Japan has further expanded from the 1970s to the 1990s as it started to manufacture cars not just for domestic use but for worldwide export as well. In the 1980s and 1990s, Japan overtook the U.S. as the production leader with up to 13 million cars per year manufactured and significant exports.
The history of the automotive industry in Japan can be traced back in the 1910s when the zaibatsus or the early Japanese business tycoons started to build the first Japan-made automobiles. The companies went about this by either designing their own trucks because the market for passenger vehicles in Japan at the time was small. They also collaborated with a European brand to produce and sell their cars in Japan under license.
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. This made Japan to be the pioneer in robotics manufacturing of vehicles in the 1970s.
In recent years, Japan is now home to about 50 companies that produce cars, construction vehicles, motorcycles, ATVs, and engines. Below are some of the best-selling and most popular car models of different Japanese automotive manufacturers.
Toyota officially lists around 70 different models sold under its brand name which include sedans, coupes, vans, trucks, hybrids, and crossovers. Many of these models are produced as passenger sedans, which range from the subcompact Toyota Yaris and compact Corolla, to midsize Camry and full-size Avalon. Consumers can also find a good deal for a Toyota Land Cruiser, and vans that includes Previa-Estima, Sienna, and others.
However, the most popular among Toyota cars is the full hybrid electric automobile, Toyota Prius. As of April 2016, the Prius is sold in over 90 countries and regions. Prius has surpassed the 1 million mark in its worldwide cumulative sales May 2008 and has exceeded up to 2 million units in September 2010. In June 2013, is has reached the 3 million milestone. As of April 2016, global sales of the Prius line-up have totaled almost 5.7 million units representing 63% of the 9 million hybrids delivered by Toyota Motor Company (TMC) worldwide, including the Lexus brand.
Honda has been the world’s largest motorcycle manufacturer since 1959, as well as the world’s largest manufacturer of internal combustion engines measured by volume, producing more than 14 million internal combustion engines each year.
In 2001, it became the top 2 Japanese automobile manufacturer and ranked the 8th largest in the world. Honda was the first Japanese automobile manufacturer to release a dedicated luxury brand, Acura, in 1986.
Aside from their core automobile and motorcycle businesses, Honda also manufactures garden equipment, marine engines, personal watercraft and power generators, and other products.
Honda’s global lineup consists of the Fit, Civic, Accord, Insight, CR-V, CR-Z, Legend and two versions of the Odyssey. The Civic is a line of compact cars developed and manufactured by Honda. In North America, the Civic is the second-longest continuously running nameplate from a Japanese manufacturer; only its perennial rival, the Toyota Corolla, introduced in 1968, has been in production longer.
In 2016, however, the Honda Fit, which is also marketed as Honda Jazz, is still the most popular among consumers. Japanese sales of the first generation Fit has greatly exceeded the original monthly sales target of 8,000 units when it was released. Eventually, it has outsold the Toyota Corollain December 2001 and has ranked first in sales for nine out of twelve months in 2002. With total sales of 250,790 for the year of 2002, it has become the best-selling vehicle in Japan, which is a first for a Honda model.
Honda announced that by the end of July 2009, worldwide sales of Fit/Jazz have reached 3 million. One year later, global cumulative sales have reached 3.5 million units in July 2010.
The multinational car manufacturer started as a partner of French automaker Renault in 1999. Nissan Motor sold its cars under the Nissan, Infiniti, and Datsun brands with in-house performance tuning products labeled Nismo. In 2013, Nissan became the sixth largest automaker in the world behind Toyota, General Motors, Volkswagen Group, Hyundai Motor Group, and Ford.
Nissan has then produced an extensive range of mainstream cars and trucks, initially for domestic consumption, but has exported around the world since the 1950s. Its line-up also includes sports cars and trucks.
However, the most popular among them is the Nissan Note, a mini multi-purpose vehicle (MPV) produced by the Japanese manufacturer since 2004. It is a five-door hatchback with Intelligent Key with proximity sensors, arched roof line from Fusion concept car, boomerang LED rear lights from Nissan Qashqai, double-deck four-slot grille from Nissan Murano, and 17 inch alloy wheels.
The Japanese model of Nissan Note is manufactured at Nissan Motor Kyushu, while European models of Nissan Note is developed at Nissan Technical Centre Europe (NTCE) in both the UK and Spain, and is produced in Nissan Manufacturing UK in Sunderland.
This Japanese multinational automaker produced almost 1.3 million vehicles for global sales, the majority of which (nearly 1 million) were produced in the company’s Japanese plants, with the remainder coming from a variety of other plants worldwide in 2007. In 2011, Mazda was the fifteenth biggest automaker by production worldwide.
Mazda used a number of different marques in the Japan market, including Autozam, Eunos, and Efini, although they have been phased out. In the early 1990s, Mazda almost created a luxury marque, Amati, to challenge Acura, Infiniti, and Lexus in North America. However, it never happened, leaving the near-luxury Millenia to the Mazda brand.
In 2012, Mazda CX-5 production at Ujina Plant was set to increase to 240,000 units per year by expanding production from Ujina Plant No.2 to boost Ujina Plant No.1. The Japan domestic market CX-5 achieved monthly sales 8 times higher than forecast just after its launch in February 2012, with the “clean diesel” (as it is referred to in Japan) model accounting for 73% of the sales.
Its best-selling model, the Mazda CX-5, is a compact crossover produced in 2012 for the 2013 model year lineup. It is also the first vehicle featuring the company’s full Skyactiv Technology suite, including a rigid, lightweight platform, combined with a new series of efficient engines and transmissions resulting in reduced emissions and fuel consumption.
As a multinational corporation, Suzuki is best known for manufacturing automobiles, four-wheel drive vehicles, motorcycles, all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), outboard marine engines, wheelchairs and a variety of other small internal combustion engines.
In 2011, Suzuki was thought to be the ninth biggest automaker by production worldwide. Before it began building four-stroke engines, Suzuki Motor Corp. was known for its two-stroke-engine motorcycles and automobiles. Even after producing its first car in 1955, the company didn’t have an automobile division until 1961.
Today Suzuki is among the world’s largest automakers, and a major brand name in important markets, including Japan and India, but no longer sells cars in North America.
Among its wide array of passenger car models, the Suzuki Alto remains to be the most popular. It is a car known for low price and good fuel economy. The popularity of the Alto has steadily increased over the past few years, mainly due to the aggressive pricing. This reduction in prices has mainly come in due to the reduction in excise duty over time.
Alto became the first car in India to sell over 200,000 units in a single financial year, the last 100,000 units being sold in 5 months. Alto is also the only car to sell over 22,000 units in a single month.