It isn’t easy introducing a new brand of cars to the United States. The problem is that we have a lot of fine car brands with established dealer networks already. This hasn’t stopped a number of companies from trying, though. In this article, we will look at several Asian manufacturers that tried to penetrate the American market but were unable to sustain the effort. Do you remember any of these?
For several decades, Daihatsu was one of Japan’s largest automobile manufacturers. By the late ’80s, with American demand for Japanese cars building steam, the company felt it was time to expand overseas and America was a primary target. In 1987, Daihatsu released two cars: the Charade, a subcompact hatchback, and the Rocky, a Suzuki Samurai-like subcompact 4×4. Both cars were fine little automobiles but Daihatsu couldn’t set up enough dealers quickly enough to gain any traction. By 1992, Daihatsu quietly left the American market.
Back in 1972, General Motors partnered with the Japanese automaker Isuzu to build and import the LUV pickup truck into the US. The LUV truck wasn’t much of a success and was plagued with rust problems. The truck did introduce the company to the US market and they soon followed up with the rugged Isuzu Trooper SUV. Sales were healthy for the Trooper but the US economy softened in the early 1990s and sales slowed down. Isuzu’s final two models, the Vehicross and Axiom were quite innovative and received great reviews but did little to reverse the fortunes of the brand. After just 6 years of sales, Isuzu left the US marketplace and focused on other international marketplaces.
Anyone remember Daewoo? Len Stoler Hyundai of Ownings Mills, a local Hyundai dealer in Ownings Mills, MD explains that Daewoo, a large South Korean conglomerate, tried out the American market in 1986. Rather than jump in as a new brand, however, they partnered with General Motors and sold their cars under the Pontiac brand. The first models were badged under the famous LeMans name and were available as a three-door hatchback and a four-door sedan. In 1998, Daewoo entered the US market under its own name with a trio of small cars: the Lanos, Leganza, and Nubira. The roll out of these three models was poorly organized and the brand never got any traction. In 2002, Daewoo was bought by General Motors.
Wait a minute. Isn’t this article about Asian cars? The Sterlings were British! OK, this is partially true but there is more to the story. Let’s take a closer look.
The British auto industry made some fine automobiles in the 1930s to 1970s. They were known for great styling, fine performance and luxurious burlwood interiors. Despite these features, though, by 1980, most of the British brands were in trouble. Never known for economy and reliability, sales of most British automobiles fell as Americans were taking to the thrifty, reliable Japanese cars. It was in this climate that Rover had a concept that seemed genius. By partnering up with Honda, they could build a car with great styling, famous British interior appointments and a highly reliable chassis. In 1986, Rover launched the Sterling 800-Series, a luxury sedan based on the Honda Legend. Unfortunately, the Sterling ended up being was poorly built and had many, many problems. The brand never gained any traction and Sterling disappeared by 1992 after five years and fewer than 40,000 sales.
Suzuki had been successful for decades as a motorcycle maker. The Suzuki brand was a force to be reckoned with. With their powerful motorcycle brand, in 1985, Suzuki entered the US market under their own brand name. By the end of the decade, they were selling the Cultus, Swift and Samurai models. Their cars were considered to be well built and extremely thrifty on fuel. Despite selling over 100,000 cars, the great recession doomed the brand in America. It left the market in 2014.