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A Brief History of Isuzu

Isuzu Motors is a Japanese truck and engine manufacturer, currently producing a selection of commercial and personal vehicles as well as diesel engines for automobiles, industry and boats. We take a look at the history of one of Japan’s oldest carmakers.

When did Isuzu start making cars?

Isuzu’s history stretches back to 1916 with the Tokyo-based Ishikawajima Shipbuilding and Engineering Company’s idea to make automobiles together with the Tokyo Gas and Electric Company. The new firm then teamed up with British automaker Wolseley and hatched a deal to produce Wolseley vehicles in East Asia.

The first Tokyo Gas and Electric truck was made in 1919 with the help of the Military Vehicle Support Act. The firm then merged with DAT Automobile Manufacturing in 1933 and within a year the new company renamed their truck model the Isuzu, after the Isuzu River. The same year, DAT changed their name to Automobile Industries Co.

When did Automobile Industries Co. Become Isuzu?

In 1942, Hino Heavy Industries split from Isuzu, becoming a separate corporation. It was only in 1949 that Isuzu was adopted as the company name.

The Hillman Minx passenger car was produced under the Rootes Group and remained in production until 1962. Isuzu’s first car, the Bellel, was introduced in 1961. However, the cars were a bit too large and a bit too pricey for the Japanese market, so Isuzu started to look for a partner. It was around this time that the Japanese government were trying to limit the number of car manufactures in Japan, and so Isuzu started a collaboration with Fuji Heavy Industries, or Subaru. This began in 1966 and the Subaru 1000 was even shown in Isuzu’s 1967 annual vehicle brochure.

Unfortunately, this collaboration was short lived and it was over by 1968 after Isuzu started an agreement with Mitsubishi. However, this was even more short lived and ended the following year. Then there was another collaboration, but this time with Nissan. Again, this also lasted just a year.

When did Isuzu collaborate with General Motors?

A Brief History of Isuzu

Finally we come to a more durable collaboration in September 1971 with General Motors. General Motors took a 34% stake in Isuzu and then the Chevrolet LUV was the first Isuzu-built vehicle to be sold in the US in 1972.

In 1974 Isuzu introduced the Gemini, this was co-produced with General Motors as the T-car. It was sold in the US as Buick’s Opel and the Holden Gemini in Australia.

In 1981, Isuzu started selling vehicles under their own brand in the US, with the Isuzu P’UP as the first model released under the brand. General Motors. The same year there was a three-way collaboration between Isuzu, Suzuki and General Motors. Suzuki produced the S-Car for General Motors and the companies exchanged shares, with General Motors taking a 5% stake in Suzuki.

The S-Car was sold under more than 12 different names including the Geo Metro, Chevy Sprint, Suzuki Cultus and Suzuki Swift.

Meanwhile, in Japan, Isuzu won 20 design awards and global commercial truck production passed 2 million units. This made Isuzu the world’s largest truck manufacturer.

When was IBC Vehicles created?

In 1985, Isuzu and General Motors established IBC Vehicles in the UK. This was where they produced locally built versions of Suzuki and Isuzu vans including the Isuzu Fargo and Suzuki Carry to be sold under Vauxhall’s Bedford brand.

It was also around this time that Isuzu became known as an exporter of diesel engines, with the engines being used in Opel/Vauxhall, Land Rover, Hindustan and others. The Gemini and Impulse were marketed as part of the Geo Division when it was launched as a subsidiary of Chevrolet.

When did Isuzu enter a deal with Honda?

For Isuzu, the 1990s meant a significant increase in international sales and ushered in an era exchange with Honda in 1993. This partnership involved Honda selling the Isuzu Rodeo and the Isuzu Trooper as the Honda Passport and Acura SLX. In return, Isuzu began selling the Honda Odysse as the Isuzu Oasis.

A Brief History of Isuzu

In 1996, Isuzu’s US sales peaked with the introduction of the Hombre pickup. They continued their SUV innovations with the unveiling of the VehiCROSS in 1997. Other notable models in this decade include the Amigo and the Axiom.

When did General Motors gain control of Isuzu?

In 1999 General Motors raised its stake in Isuzu to 49%. This effectively gave them control of the company and was the first time a non-Japanese executive held such a high position at Isuzu.

However, the millennium saw the sales slide after cooperation with Honda ended and poor performance of the ageing Rodeo and Trooper. 2002 was the last year Isuzu produced passenger vehicles for Canada, and Fuji Heavy Industries bought Isuzu’s share of their Indiana plant.

At the end of 2002 Isuzu began repurchasing its stock from shareholders, primarily General Motors. General Motors’ 49% shares were reduced to 12% this year.

Isuzu, Mitsubishi and Toyota

In 2006, after many cut backs in the United States, Mitsubishi becomes Isuzu’s largest shareholder. In November 2006, Toyota purchased 5.9% of Isuzu. This meant it became the third largest shareholder behind ITOCHU and Mitsubishi.

In August 2007, Isuzu and Toyota agreed to develop a diesel engine for use in Toyota vehicles sold in European markets. However, this was shelved several years later.

Withdrawal from the US market

Due to declining sales, Isuzu had only two models on the US market by 2005.

In January 2008, Isuzu announced a complete withdrawal from the US market effective January 2009. This was essentially down to lack of sales and many saw it as a long time coming. However, they still continue to sell commercial vehicles.

Isuzu Today

Isuzu are still the leader in commercial vehicles and are committed to making low impact clean diesel engines that are used in vehicles across Europe and the USA.

looking after your car this winter

Holly Martin

Content Co-ordinator at OSV Ltd
Holly enjoys: Reading, music and spending time with friends.

Within a week of Holly starting work at OSV she became an indispensable part of the marketing team. She's very intuitive and gets on with the whole office effortlessly.
Holly Martin
  • 13th December 2016

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