Japanese Cars Suck!

Japanese Cars Suck!

by Mike Kojima

As a hardcore Japanese car enthusiast, it pains me to write this. I have seen the Japanese car phenomena go full circle first hand. When I was a little kid adults used to snicker at the funny little weird crap boxes that were first imported from Japan by Datsun, Toyota and then Honda. The cars were small, underpowered and quirky. There were some standouts like the Datsun 240Z, the Toyota 2000GT and 510 that were pretty cool cars but for the most part, no one cared.

Then, the oil crisis hit in 1973.  The newly formed OPEC oil cartel put an embargo on oil exports to the US and all of a sudden the days of cheap gas were over. Overnight, suddenly everyone cared about efficiency and fuel economy. The big three in Detroit were blindsided by the rise in oil prices as the free market price of crude oil rose from 3 dollars a gallon to 12 in one swift stroke.

 

The AE86 Corolla was the epitome of the fun to drive, cheap, high quality and good looking Japanese compact car.  My GTS Corolla was $8700 brand new in 1985. I wish I never sold it.
 
In contrast, the modern Corolla is bloated, ugly and boring looking with a trying too hard to look stylish front fascia that is just gross.  At least it is still high quality. At least Toyota brought out the 86 to try to capture some of the spirit of the AE86.  I am surprised that they got it.  For the most part, Toyota seems clueless on how to build appealing cars nowadays. They are good at making high-quality appliances, in which the best attribute is not driving pleasure, but having a lack of annoying qualities.  

In the background, the Japanese car makers Toyota, Datsun (Nissan) and Honda were quietly at work diligently improving their cars. The Japanese culture of Kaizen, which means continual improvement, and the national embracing of the process control doctrines of  Edward Deming (the father of modern quality assurance) by all Japanese industry boosted quality to world class levels. This meant that the once scorned moniker, “Made in Japan,” started to mean superior products of the highest quality instead of cheap junk.  

The Japanese car makers all set up US headquarters and started to study the US market in earnest and began producing cars that better suited American tastes. The Japanese added more power, features and luxury appointments that were still efficient. These second wave Japanese cars hit the market just as the the OPEC embargo fell. Suddenly the fat and arrogant Domestic automakers had competition!  

 

The Toyota SW20 MR-2 was good looking, decent performing, decently priced and high quality. We miss Toyotas like that.
 
The Toyota Celica spanned 6 generations of affordable sporty cars with decent performance and practicality. Toyota killed the line to replace it with a bunch of anonymous and boring transportation appliances.
 
The MKIV Supra represents the peak of the Japanese Supercar era. This was Toyota's flagship back in the day, and although expensive for a Toyota, it had exotic beating performance for half of the cost of a Porsche- with better quality. Now, I think Toyota's flagship is an Avalon or something. Yawn. Not even my retired father and his golf buddies would be caught in a boring car like that. Maybe an elderly accountant would like it. 

 

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