Scion is not Japan’s only failed U.S. brand

Japanese failures in the United States are rare, but there have been a few. And with the death of Scion, announced today, Toyopet no longer stands alone as Toyota’s only failed brand.

Remember the 1959-61 Toyopet Crown? It was a compact, American-looking car — complete with junior tailfins and a Detroit-style hood ornament — designed and engineered in Japan. But it was underpowered and offered at a time when American buyers were not yet willing to buy most Japanese goods.

Just 2,000 Toyopets were sold in two years before Toyota killed the Toyopet brand. But the company remained in the U.S. selling only one vehicle, the Toyota Land Cruiser.

Four years later, Toyota came back with a better car, the Toyota Corona, and a more efficient distribution system.

Daihatsu, the next Japanese brand that failed in the United States, also had a Toyota connection. Daihatsu, a manufacturer of small cars — 51 percent owned by Toyota at the time — launched in the U.S. in 1987 with a subcompact called the Charade. A year later, it added the Rocky, one of the first compact SUVs.

But in 1992, Daihatsu suddenly withdrew from the United States, citing voluntary import quotas that restricted volume to just 12,000 vehicles per year, a recession that dented sales and a lack of brand awareness.

No other Japanese brands would quit the United States until 2009, when Isuzu dropped out. That had been a long time coming, as Isuzu quit selling cars in the 1990s and focused on compact pickups and SUVs.

More recently, Suzuki quit the U.S. in late 2012 after years of stagnant sales.

Two other Japanese brands also face an uncertain future in the United States: Mitsubishi, which is in the process of closing its lone U.S. plant, and Honda’s Acura division, which has been struggling for nearly 20 years. At the Detroit auto show last month, Acura rolled out a concept with yet another styling overhaul.

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