Isuzu Ventures into the United States Market
April 14, 2009
It’s a safe bet that most in the United States do not realize that Isuzu produces anything other than passenger cars, light trucks and of course their well know SUV’s. However, in reality Isuzu is the largest manufacturer of medium to heavy-duty trucks in the world. Worldwide Isuzu manufactured 16 million diesel engines in 2003 alone.
Isuzu has actually been around a quite a long time. It had its beginnings back in 1916 when Tokyo Ishikawajima Shipbuilding and Engineering Co., LTD and Tokyo Gas and Electric Industrial Co. joined forces as Ishikawajima Automotive Works to begin building automobiles. By 1918, the company had enlisted the help of a British car company, Wolseley Motor Company, and together they produced their first vehicle, the mode A-9, followed quickly by their first truck, the CP. It was not until 1949 that the name Isuzu was officially adopted.
By 1972, General Motors and Isuzu had entered into an arrangement for Isuzu to produce smaller light trucks. Isuzu’s first venture in the United States market was the Chevrolet LUV (LUV stands for Light Utility Vehicle). The LUV did quite well and was popular with consumers who needed the versatility of a truck but had no need for a full size pickup truck. The small engine was a great advantage as well. With the gas crisis in 1973, the timing of the introduction of small truck could not have been better, even as unintentional as it was. Isuzu would produce the Chevrolet LUV until 1982 when Chevrolet decided to put its own small truck on the market, the Chevrolet S-10.
No longer producing the Chevrolet LUV for General Motors, Isuzu began importing its own passenger vehicles for sale in the United States. The Isuzu Pup was a rebranding of what had been the Chevrolet LUV. Pup was a simple contraction of the word Pickup without the apostrophe. By 1987, Isuzu had entered into business with Subaru to found SIA (Subaru-Isuzu Automotive) and in a joint venture with Fuji Heavy Industries began producing their own vehicles in the United States. The assembly plant was built in Lafayette, Indiana and was operational by January 1988. The popular Isuzu Rodeo Isuzu Trooper models were produced at this plant.
Sales for the Trooper and the Rodeo were strong through the early and mid nineties reaching a peak in 1996. This success probably contributed to General Motors decision to raise its stock in Isuzu to 49%, effectively gaining control of the business. General Motors quickly moved to appoint an American GM executive to the head of the North American operations, marking the first time a non-Japanese had ever held such a high position at Isuzu. The takeover was not successful. The production version of the Vehicross did not enjoy a successful reception with car critics who gave it mixed reviews. This coupled with the high price tag, unusual style fell flat with consumers, and production was soon halted.
For the first years of the twenty first century, rumors were rampant that Isuzu was pulling out of the North American passenger vehicle market. At first, they appeared to be just rumors as Isuzu entered into another joint venture with General Motors to develop a new pickup. Unfortunately, Isuzu was never able to turn sales around and by 2008, the announcement came that a complete withdrawal from the United States passenger vehicle market was planned. Isuzu will continue to provide support in the form of service and parts. Most former Isuzu dealerships converted to parts and service dealers only and have continued to honor warranties of Isuzu vehicles
Ronnie Tanner is a contributing writer at SWEngines.com. He writes about used Isuzu Engines.
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