Isuzu is a Japanese commercial vehicle manufacturer with headquarters in Tokyo and manufacturing plants in Fujisawa, Tochigi, and Hokkaido.
The company is best known for manufacturing not only commercial vehicles, but heavy trucks, too. It’s the largest producer of these machines in the world. In addition, it makes respected off road vehicles and motorcycles. It shares a smaller percent of the consumer vehicle market but has a number of popular vehicles in the United States and abroad.
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The creation of Isuzu was a joint effort between a shipbuilding company in Japan and Tokyo Gas and Electrical Industries. In 1916, it decided to break into the emerging car industry. In 1918, it partnered with Wolseley Auto Motor Company and the first A-9 domestic vehicle begun mass production. The CP truck was introduced a couple of years later. The automobile branch of the parent company, Ishikawajima Automotive Works, merged with Dot Automotive Inc. and settled on the more generic name Automobile Industries Company, Ltd. in 1933. But the company was renamed Isuzu in 1949 soon after the success of the signature Isuzu vehicle and in hopes of appealing to a wider market.
Isuzu Through The Years
Outside of Japan and commercial industries, Isuzu kept a slow pace in the mid-1900s. In 1953, with the help of Rootes Group, the Hillman Minx passenger car was created and enjoyed moderate success. In the early 1970s, Isuzu made a series of agreements with U.S. car manufacturers, General Motors and Chevrolet. The company soon began introducing their line of vehicles to U.S. consumers. In recent history, Isuzu has exchanged technology with many of the popular manufacturers and weaved their brand into the world’s fabric. Though the success of Isuzu has been limited in suburbia, it has become a commercial juggernaut as the public transports supplies around the world with an Isuzu engine under the hood.
The inner workings of technology and design trade agreements between Isuzu and soon-to-be competitors have been highly collaborative. The first alliance was also the first mass-produced vehicle within U.S. borders. Chevrolet LUV was an Isuzu at heart as it was built, designed and marketed by the Japanese corporation. A few years later, the popular Chevy S-10 was introduced, which is ironically marketed today as an American car despite its Japanese roots. Another very popular car on the luxury end was the Buick Opel. There are many examples of trading engineering and manufacturing for a name. Isuzu's deals with U.S. companies were not unique; similar collaborations could be found in Europe and in Australia.
Isuzu in America
Though Isuzu had vehicles technically manufactured by their company on the roads here in the U.S., consumers by and large were none the wiser. Other than commercial use, the name Isuzu was not well-known. The first car enjoying any amount of success as a consumer vehicle with the name Isuzu was the Isuzu P'Up in 1981. In 1987, in conjunction with Fuji Heavy Industries SIA, Subaru-Isuzu Automotive was formed. Isuzu built a plant in Lafayette, Ind., and in the following five years, saw the formation of another Isuzu-based consumer vehicle company, Geo, which enjoyed brief popularity before closing down in 1993.
After its short and failed stint as a brand name manufacturer in the United States, Isuzu went back to manufacturing vehicles under more popular and accepted American names such as GMC, Chevrolet, and others. The Chevrolet Colorado was one such vehicle. Though Isuzu was muscled out of the consumer market in the U.S., it did not fully withdraw until 2008. It sold just over 1,000 cars in 2006, and most of these were used Isuzu Rodeos.
But Isuzu doesn’t view its withdrawal from the U.S. market as a failure. It still enjoys a positive reputation around the world and outside of the U.S. Furthermore, many of the major manufacturers rely on Isuzu for specific models and parts. The U.S. consumers who appreciate Isuzu's line of vehicles can still get them in new and excellent condition for a significantly discounted price.
The last popular consumer vehicle in the U.S. that bore the Isuzu name was the Rodeo, which was discontinued in 2003. It was considered as a reliable and heavy-duty truck with models still being produced outside of the United States. Notably, the 2011 Isuzu D Max, successor of the Rodeo, is a popular pickup truck. Even though the official U.S.-based Isuzu website makes no mention of consumer vehicles, it instead focuses exclusively on commercial vehicles for the U.S. market.