Historic Truck Brands
Mitsubishi’s automotive origins date back to 1917, when the Mitsubishi Shipbuilding Co, Ltd introduced the Mitsubishi Model A, Japan’s first series-production automobile.
A hand-built seven-seater sedan based on the Fiat Tipo 3, it proved expensive compared to imported American and European mass-produced rivals and was discontinued in 1921, after only 22 had been built.
Japanese automobile manufacturers struggled in the early 1920s, despite investment efforts by the Japanese Government and then the 1923 Great Kantō Earthquake devastated most of Japan’s fledgling infrastructure.
Imported trucks and construction equipment were needed to help with reconstruction work. Yanase & Co, Ltd imported GMC trucks and construction equipment.
From 1925 until the beginning of World War II, Ford and GM had factories in Japan and they dominated the Japanese market. The Ford Motor Company of Japan was established in 1925 and a production plant was set up in Yokohama. General Motors established operations in Osaka in 1927. Chrysler also came to Japan and set up Kyoritsu Motors.
Between 1925 and 1936, the United States Big Three automakers’ Japanese subsidiaries produced a total of 208,967 vehicles, compared to the domestic producers’ total of 12,127 vehicles.
In the 1930s, Nissan Motors’ cars were based on the Austin 7 and Graham-Paige designs, while the Toyota AA model was based on the Chrysler Airflow. Ohta built cars in the 1930s based on Ford models, while Chiyoda built a car resembling a 1935 Pontiac, and Sumida built a car similar to a LaSalle.
Japanese manufacturers were able to examine the imported vehicles and develop their own products.
In 1936, the Japanese government passed the Automobile Manufacturing Industry Law, which was intended to promote the domestic auto industry and reduce foreign competition. It was also part of thinly veiled preparations for Pacific Area military conquest.
By 1939, foreign manufacturers had been forced out of Japan.
The birth of Mitsubishi-Fuso
In 1934, Mitsubishi Shipbuilding merged with Mitsubishi Aircraft Co and formed Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) – the largest private company in Japan. MHI concentrated on manufacturing aircraft, ships, railroad cars and machinery, and in 1937 developed the 4WD PX33 sedan.
Four working prototypes were built and a version was in development using Mitsubishi’s 6.7 litre, 69hp 445AD powerplant, Japan’s first direct-injection diesel engine. However, the PX33 project was cancelled when the government decided to prioritise Mitsubishi’s manufacturing capabilities on trucks and buses.
The ‘Fuso’ brand was first used in 1932, on the first bus from MHI. The B46 38-passenger bus was powered by a seven-litre, six-cylinder, 100hp petrol engine with 100 hp. Fusō is the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese word Fusang, an old name for Japan.
MHI was busy during World War Two producing military vehicles and the famous Zero fighter plane.
In 1946, Fuso released 6-7-ton bonneted trucks and, in 1949, the Fuso Motors Sales Company was established. It was renamed the Mitsubishi Fuso Motors Sales Company in 1952.
In 1957, the MHI plants in Tokyo Kawasaki were integrated into the Tokyo Motor Vehicle Works. The new Fuso release was a revamped 1946 truck range, but uprated to 7-8-tons and with 155hp, 8.7-litre, six-cylinder diesel power. Bus models with 40- and 45-seat capacity were released.
Specialised Fuso vehicles at that time included a 6×6, 10-ton bonneted truck and a three-axle prime mover with 200hp, 13.7-litre diesel power and a 10-speed transmission.
In the early 1960s lighter-duty bonneted trucks were introduced, along with a tilt-cab COE range for up to 11 tons payload.
In 1964, Mitsubishi Fuso Heavy Industries was formed and Mitsubishi Fuso Motors Sales split into two divisions: Shin and Fuso Motors Sales Company. Sharing a logo, they split the distribution of heavy and light machinery: Shin distributed light machinery branded as Mitsubishi and Fuso distributed heavy machinery branded as Fuso.
From this time, the passenger fleet was all rear-engined and the long-distance coach model boasted a 210hp V8 diesel that made it capable of a claimed 125km/h.
Fuso’s off-road range now included 100-ton-capacity dumpers.
In 1970 MHI signed a joint-venture agreement with Chrysler Corporation, establishing the Mitsubishi Motors Corporation (MMC) and MHI transferred its motor-vehicle operations to MMC.
The 1972 truck range included 6×4 rigids with up to 30 tons GVM rating.
In 1975, MMC opened the Nakatsu Plant at its Tokyo Motor Vehicle Works and five years later, it opened the Kitsuregawa Proving Grounds.
In 1999 MMC and Volvo joined their truck and bus operations and Volvo acquired five percent of MMC. Two years later, DaimlerChrysler replaced Volvo as MMC’s truck and bus partner.
In 2003, the Mitsubishi Fuso Truck and Bus Corporation (MFTBC) was established. DaimlerChrysler, Mitsubishi Motors Corporation and other Mitsubishi companies acquired 43-, 42- and 15-percent shares, respectively, in MFTBC.
In 2005, Mitsubishi Motors Corporation transferred its MFTBC shares to DaimlerChrysler as part of their compensation agreement for financial damages resulting from quality problems and recalls at MFTBC. DaimlerChrylser and the Mitsubishi companies held shares of 89 and 11 percent, respectively.
In 2006, MFTBC moved its headquarters from Tokyo to Kawasaki-shi, Kanagawa and, in 2007, DaimlerChrysler sold its majority stake in Chrysler Corporation to Cerberus Capital Management. The corporation was renamed Daimler AG, and the DaimlerChrysler Truck Group was renamed Daimler Trucks.
MFTBC is part of the Daimler Trucks Division of Daimler AG and is the international competence centre for the development of light trucks. The Fuso headquarters is also Daimler’s global development centre for hybrid technology.
Mitsubishi trucks Down Under
Mitsubishi-Fuso had mixed fortunes Down Under. Initially, all was good, following the 1971 release of the ‘Dodge’ Canter. Once the public was used to the Canter and Mitsubishi took over the Australian arm of Chrysler, the Dodge brand was dropped.
The Canter was an instant success and was followed by well respected medium-weight Fuso trucks. However, after the failure of the first Australian-market Fuso prime movers the name ‘Fuso’ was dropped and all Mitsubishi-Fuso trucks in Asutralia were sold as ‘Mitsubishis’.
It was only after the Daimler take-over that the Fuso brand was re-established Down Under.