Historic Truck Brands
Isuzu Motors’ history began in 1916, when Tokyo Ishikawajima Shipbuilding and Engineering Co Ltd planned a cooperation with the Tokyo Gas and Electric Industrial Co to build automobiles.
The next step was taken in 1918, when a technical cooperation with Wolseley Motors Limited was initiated, yielding exclusive rights to the production and sales of Wolseley vehicles in East Asia.
In 1922 came the first ever Japan-produced passenger car, a Wolseley model, the A9. The CP truck followed two years later and 550 of these were built by 1927.
In 1933, Ishikawajima Automotive Works merged with DAT Automobile Manufacturing Inc (a predecessor of Nissan) and changed its name to Automobile Industries Co Ltd.
The products of this company, marketed as Sumiya and Chiyoda, were branded Isuzu (after the Isuzu River) in 1934, following a meeting with the Japanese Government’s Ministry of Trade and Industry (MITI). (The word ‘Isuzu’ translated into English means ’50 bells’, hence the focus on ‘bell’ in both the later Isuzu Bellel and Bellett motor cars.
In 1937 Automobile Industries was reorganised and formed into a new company, Tokyo Automobile Industries Co Ltd. The Chiyoda Type 94 truck served with the Japanese Imperial Army during World War Two.
In 1942, Hino Heavy Industries was split off from Isuzu, becoming a separate corporation.
In 1949, ‘Isuzu’ was adopted as the company name. Truck production of the TX40 and TU60 models started again in 1945, as part of the US Marshall Plan.
The Hillman Minx passenger car was produced by Isuzu, under license from the UK’s Rootes Group, until 1962, with the 1961 introduction of Isuzu’s first the Bellel.
Isuzu couldn’t generate enough sales volume to get the retail pricing it needed and so followed a number of joint sales and service ventures with Subaru, Mitsubishi and Nissan, before a 1971 agreement with General Motors was signed. That soon resulted in GM taking a 34-percent stake in Isuzu and the first fruit was seen in 1972, when the Chevrolet LUV became the first Isuzu-built vehicle to be sold in the United States.
In 1974, Isuzu introduced the Gemini, which was co-produced with General Motors as the T-Car. It was sold in the United States as Buick’s Opel-by-Isuzu, and in Australia as the Holden Gemini.
As a result of the collaboration, certain American GM products were sold to Japanese customers through Isuzu dealerships. Holden’s Statesman was also briefly sold with Isuzu badging in Japan during the 1970s.
Isuzu exports increased considerably through GM’s international networks: from 0.7-percent of production in 1973 to 35.2-percent by 1976. Production quadrupled in the same period. As a result of the GM joint venture, Isuzu engines were also used in some USA-market GM vehicles.
By 1981 Isuzu was on a roll and began selling consumer and commercial vehicles under their own brand in the United States, and initiated a collaboration with small-car expert Suzuki to develop a global small car for GM. A three-way agreement was signed, with Isuzu and Suzuki exchanging shares and General Motors taking a 5-percent share of Suzuki.
Following in 1985, Isuzu and GM established the IBC Vehicles venture in the United Kingdom, producing locally built versions of Isuzu and Suzuki light vans that were sold in the European market under the Bedford brand.
Isuzu also developed a worldwide presence as an exporter of diesel engines, with their powerplants in use by Opel/Vauxhall, Land Rover, Hindustan and many others.
However, in the domestic Japanese market, OEM deals with other manufacturers were needed to aid the poorly performing passenger car arm, leading to badging of Suzukis and Subaru small commercial vehicles as Isuzus.
In 1993, sold the last Isuzu-built car in the USA and began a new vehicle exchange program with Honda, where Honda sold the Isuzu Rodeo and Isuzu Trooper as the Honda Passport and Acura SLX, respectively. In return, Isuzu began selling the Honda Odyssey as the Isuzu Oasis. Thus, in the USA, Honda gained two SUVs, and Isuzu gained a minivan.
Isuzu’s US sales reached a peak in 1996, after the introduction of the Isuzu Hombre pickup: a badge-engineered GM truck that used the sheet metal of the Brazil-made Chevrolet S10.
The ‘Asian Meltdown’ financial crisis hit Isuzu very hard and severely curbed its product development plans.
In the late-1900s, US-market Isuzu sales began to slide, due to the ageing of the Rodeo and Trooper, and lack of assistance from GM. However, in 1998 General Motors and Isuzu formed DMAX, a joint venture to produce diesel engines.
GM raised its stake in Isuzu to 49-percent, effectively gaining control of the company and appointed an American GM executive to head Isuzu’s North American Operations.
Production of SUVs ended in 2001 as part of a major financial reorganisation that eliminated almost 10,000 jobs. Also, by then, the Subaru and Honda deals were extinct.
In late 2002, Isuzu initiated a recapitalisation and debt-for-equity conversion plan to stave off a bankruptcy. GM acquired 20-percent of DMAX, 60-percent of Isuzu Motors Polska and Isuzu Motors Germany, and the rights to three types of diesel engine technology from Isuzu, by paying US$425 million. GM also paid US$85 million for a 12-percent stake in the recapitalised company.
GM wanted Isuzu to focus exclusively on commercial vehicles and diesel engines, so, by 2005, Isuzu in the USA was primarily a distributor of medium duty trucks, sourced from Japan and US plants in Janesville, Wisconsin and Flint, Michigan.
Although GM ended its equity investment in Isuzu and sold all its shares to Mitsubishi Corporation, Itochu and Mizuho Corporate Bank, Isuzu and GM established a joint venture in 2006 to develop pickup trucks for the US market, but those products were discontinued in 2009.
In November 2006 Toyota purchased 5.9-percent of Isuzu, becoming the third largest shareholder. That shareholding was part of a proposed deal for Isuzu to produce diesel engines for Toyota’s European passenger cars and SUVs, but after VW’s ‘dieselgate’ scandal in the USA, those plans were shelved, and Toyota sold its equity in 2018.
In 2016, Isuzu and Mazda agreed to collaborate to produce the next-generation pickup trucks for Mazda outside of North America and Isuzu’s plant in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh began operations.
In December 2019, Isuzu announced that it had signed a non-binding memorandum of understanding which would see it eventually buy UD Trucks from AB Volvo.
Isuzu trucks Down Under
Isuzu trucks were initially marketed in Australia by General Motors Holden Ltd as ‘Bedford by Isuzu’ between 1972 and 1980.
From 1980 they were solely branded as Isuzu, and distribution continued through General Motors Holden Ltd until 1989.
In February 1989, Isuzu-General Motors Ltd (I-GM) was formed as a joint venture company: 60-percent owned by Isuzu Motors Ltd and 40-percent by General Motors.
In 2001, after Isuzu had made the Holden-badged Rodeo a market success, GMH executives transferred responsibility for the LCV business to Holden, allowing I-GM to concentrate entirely on the truck business. (Had the Rodeo and subsequent D-Max products stayed with Isuzu, they would probably have sold in much greater numbers than Holden’s dismal efforts.)
In November 2005, following a series of negotiations, Isuzu Motors Ltd purchased all of General Motors’ equity in I-GM and the company was renamed Isuzu Australia Limited (IAL); now a fully-owned subsidiary of Isuzu Motors Ltd.
Isuzu trucks have dominated the Australian truck market consistently for more than 30 years.