The Editor introduces DTW’s first single country theme
My standard answer to American acquaintances who asked me why, despite their entire continent and the rest of Europe doing otherwise, the UK and Ireland still insist on driving on the left hand side of the road, was that we were only conforming with the largest motor vehicle manufacturing nation on Earth. That nation was, of course, Japan, a country reasonably larger than the UK, but considerably smaller than France.
For a while, in the early part of this century, the USA re-assumed the position of number one producer on paper but, bearing in mind that the major Japanese manufacturers’ factories in the US account for maybe 25% of that figure, Japan could still have been said to hold that title. This, of course, is no longer so. Despite South Korea being tipped as the rising star, China has eclipsed all other countries over the past decade. But, impressive though this is, China’s home directed industry is still finding its feet, at least in terms of manufacturing a product that is anything more than adequate. However, if we take the history of Japan’s industry as a model, this certainly won’t continue to be the case for long.
Japan started relatively late as a car producer with its first petrol-engined car dating from 1907. Before the Second World War, many cars were copies or developments, sanctioned or otherwise, of Western vehicles such as Wolseleys, Austins, Fiats and Chryslers. Following the traumas of the War, Japan became a very different society and its industry flourished accordingly. Nevertheless, for a long time, the perception in the West remained of a copycat manufacturing base, but this said more about the West’s complacency and ignorance than it did about the potential of Japan’s industry.
Although a certain cautious conservatism might be seen in the design and engineering of the vehicles, its approach to manufacturing was not. Toyota entered the UK market in 1965 and Nissan (as Datsun) in 1968 and Japanese cars soon achieved a reputation for equipment levels and reliability, if not at first rustproofing, that home manufacturers didn’t even dream of dreaming about.
Today, jokes about Japanese cars are a very distant memory and, although Japan still retains an image to some in the West as a conformist culture, its motor industry has a rich underside. From Kei cars to Bosozoku inspired street rods, ingenuity is everywhere. Without doubt, there is enough of interest in Japan to justify it being our Theme for a full year. We have just one month.