List of Japanese Car Manufacturers

by Richard Rowe

The only period of automotive industry growth superseded by the one Japan experienced just before World War II was in the years immediately following its defeat. The engineering and toolmaking companies that had previously built ships, boats and airplanes for the empire began to establish car companies immediately after its collapse, which helped to rebuild the nation into the thoroughly modern society it is today.

Dome

Literally translated as "child's dream," Dome opened its doors in 1975 with the specific goal of manufacturing the fastest racing cars in Japan. Dome continues as a powerful presence in Formula One and Prototype racing.

Honda

Soichiro Honda got his start building pistons for Toyota, as Toyota's factory had been destroyed in an earthquake. Honda later ran with his idea of attaching small engines to bicycles and, by 1964, was the world's largest maker of motorcycles. Honda started making automobiles in 1963 -- their first was the T360 pickup -- and remains a powerful force on today's market.

Isuzu

Isuzu started out as a joint venture between Tokyo Ishikawajima Shipbuilding and Tokyo Gas and Electric in 1916. Isuzu signed a corporate merger with GM in 1971 and has remained with the company ever since. All of GM's Geo models were re-badged Isuzus. The company withdrew all Isuzu-badged vehicles in 2009, but many are still sold as GM vehicles.

Mazda

Mazda -- whose name derives from the Zoroastrian god of wisdom -- went into business in 1920 and produced a great many firearms for the Japanese army, including the Type 99 rifle. Mazda gained fame in the U.S. with its powerful, high-revving rotary-type engines. Its rotary "Renesis" engine -- found in the excellent RX-8 -- won the "International Engine of the Year" title in 2003.

Mitsubishi

Mitsubishi opened its doors in 1917 and has subsequently been owned by or allied with Daimler-Chrysler, Hyundai, Volvo and Peugeot. Mitsubishi built the first Japanese road car ever to have full-time all-wheel-drive, which was based largely on the system pioneered by AMC for its Eagle Crossover. Mitsubishi also manufactured the lightweight A6M2 Zero fighter planes that attacked Pearl Harbor.

Mitsuoka

Mitsuoka made its name in 1968 by building sports cars that strongly emulated the Jaguars and Aston Martins popular in Europe. The company continues today as a custom coach-builder, designer and small volume manufacturer, comparable to Saleen in the United States.

Nissan

Nissan started out as Datsun in 1914. The company gained its now-familiar name in the 1930s, when it was purchased by Nippon Sangyo. Tthe Nissan name was an the abbreviation used to identify Nippon Sangyo on the U.S. stock market. The Datsun name returned as the company expanded into the U.S. in the 1970s, primarily because Nissan wanted a second chance if no one liked their cars. One of Nissan's most famous cars is the Skyline, which it originally acquired from rival company Prince.

Subaru

Subaru began as The Aircraft Research Laboratory in 1917 and gained its current moniker when Fuji Heavy Industries bought the company in 1954. Subaru copied AMC's all-wheel-drive system in 1972 and two decades later made its name by applying the layout to every car it produced. Subaru is one of only two American-market manufacturers regularly employing horizontally opposed "flat" or "boxer" engines. The other is Porsche.

Toyota

Toyota began in 1933 as a division of Toyoda Automatic Loom Works. The company entered the United States in the early 1980s with the Corolla; and by 2010, had six major production plants on U.S. soil.

About the Author

Richard Rowe has been writing professionally since 2007, specializing in automotive topics. He has worked as a tractor-trailer driver and mechanic, a rigger at a fire engine factory and as a race-car driver and builder. Rowe studied engineering, philosophy and American literature at Central Florida Community College.