Whenever you buy a car, the first thing that comes to mind is the car’s overall reliability. When you look at the global rankings and the car’s quality, Japanese brands top the list for the last 20 years. Five out of ten brands are Japanese, Mazda coming off topping the list, Toyota is the second, and Lexus achieves the third place. Six cars out of ten are from Japanese companies, and in the least reliable list, only one Japanese car.
Additionally, whoever understands cars knows that Lexus, which is Toyota’s luxury arm, has arguably the most bulletproof quality cars globally. So this article will look at what makes Japanese car companies so unique in quality and why they have dominated the global market for so long.
Why are Japanese cars so reliable?
The Japanese car is known as the most reliable car. Moreover, Japanese cars are more economical than sedan cars, and many cars with engines between 500 ccs and 2000 cc. So that’s becoming a phenomenon that the economy cars. The American and the European cars give more luxury. So, there’s a series of Japanese cars with luxury manufacturing lines for Toyota.
Japanese cars are the most dependable cars in the entire world. Everyone wants their car to be reliable. A recent report warranty-wise found that five out of the ten most reliable car brands in the UK came from Japan. It is because the manufacturers it ranked so highly were Suzuki, Isuzu, Toyota, Lexus, and Honda. The most reliable car in the entire survey was an older Lexus. But why do Japanese manufacturers find it easier to make reliable cars, and everyone else seems to struggle?
One of the reasons goes back to before World War Two. In the 1930s, many Japanese companies were making cars inspired by Western models like Toyota AA. But very few people in Japan could afford to buy a car back then.
- The government passed the 1936 automobile manufacturing industry law to reduce competition from foreign companies and boost Japanese car production.
This meant Japanese car makers didn’t have to build Western-style cars to compete with brands like Ford, GM, and Chrysler. Instead, they could make cars specifically for Japanese drivers that were cheaper to build and maintain.
- Many other brands had built cheap, simple cars before the Ford, Model-T, and the original Volkswagen Beetle plus. But Japan took this a step further.
In 1949, it introduced rules that let you get cheap tax and insurance if your car was less than a specific size and had a tiny engine. These tiny cars were called K cars, Japanese for light automobiles. The first K cars had tiny 360 CC engines smaller than the engines in most modern motorbikes.
- Japan did relax the rules later on. So engines grew to 550 CC in 1976, then again to a whopping 660 CC in 1990.
Things changed a bit in 2014 when the government raised the taxes on K cars, but they have become such a big part of Japanese car culture that they were still selling well. Seven of the ten best-selling new cars in Japan in 2018 were K cars. They were so popular that a few Western brands, including KTM, sold K car versions of their cars in Japan. But what’s this got to do with reliability?
- The whole point of a K car is that it’s cheap to buy and cheap to maintain.
Reliability plays a big part in being cheap to maintain. After all, it costs you cash when your car breaks down because you have to pay to get it fixed. So Japanese manufacturers made sure their K cars were reliable so you could avoid expensive repair bills. But that’s only part of the story. Japan has some of the best public transport globally, especially in big cities like Tokyo. So you have to have a good reason to own a car.
- Reliability has been a key selling point for Japanese brands for years.
There’s another reason why these cars are reliable, and it’s to do with the factories that build them. Take Toyota, for example. It made almost 10 million cars last year. That’s one every 3 seconds. But before it puts a new car into production, it builds one completely by hand.
- Every single piece, from the first bit of metal to sticking the badge on at the end every last bit.
- The engineers only figure out how to automate the production line when they’re happy with every part of the process.
It is part of Toyota’s strategy, which means continuous improvement. When you put this much attention to detail into every part, you can spot issues that might show up later. But Toyota has another Judoka process, which loosely translates as automation with a human touch. Toyota has a trick up its sleeve to help it save some cash.
It reuses as many components as it can in lots of different cars. I’m talking about the engines, the gearboxes, the infotainment systems, almost everything. So it’s no surprise that Toyota and Lexus, which Toyota owns, make loads of reliable cars. It is also why Toyota doesn’t build many limited-run cars.
- Toyota’s engines can be tuned to make masses more power than standard without that much chance of being overstressed and breaking.
The Toyota Corolla won’t break down on the school run is also the same reason you can tune an old supra to have more power than a modern hypercar.
Development history of Japanese automobile industry
In 1950, Toyota produced a whopping 300 vehicles in a year. Back then, Japanese car manufacturers were known for ripping off designs from other foreign carmakers. For example, Toyota Model A was made in 1936, and Chevy Master was produced in 1935.
In the 1950s, automobiles played a significant role in the suburban sprawl of metropolitan city centers all over the US. Also, the Eisenhower Interstate Highway System created the infrastructure that made cross-country travel easy for car drivers.
- Toyota made an eye on the US and opened its headquarters in California in 1957.
When Toyota first came to the US. It was not Toyota of the day. Its cars were unreliable, ugly, and costly for North American consumers. In 1957, the first year in the US market, Toyota sold 288 vehicles. Nissan also began selling its Datsun cars to American consumers in 1958. By 1961, the company had sold a total of 146 units compared to hundreds of thousands of vehicles being sold by Ford, Chevy, and Plymouth.
- One of the secrets of Toyota and overall Japanese brands was aggressively learning from their own mistakes.
In 1975, after 18 years, Toyota was the top import brand in the US, surpassing Volkswagen. It can be attributed to the Kaizen principle, theorized as a constant improvement. It goes hand in hand with the statement that Toyota, Honda, Nissan, and other Japanese car manufacturers emphasize quality. That’s because the Kaizen system in and of itself emphasizes proactively looking for defects and problems before they happen.
- Companies using the system often incentivize their employees by offering cash rewards per defect found and corrected. Toyota, in particular, is known for its practice of Kaizen, and it’s often called the Toyota way.
This principle puts them in a position that puts quality and efficiency at the highest priority possible.
The root of the success in the Japanese automotive industry was an American quality guru named Adverse Damian.
- After World War Two, Damian was sent to consult the Japanese government on building infrastructure.
- In the 1960s, the Japanese worked on consistently improving detail-oriented engineering and slowly gained a reputation as a reliable car brand.
They weren’t famous for how they designed the aesthetics of their cars’ innovation, marketing, and driving mechanics.
- The core success of Japan was systematically borrowing and adopting the best ideas from their weaknesses.
- Japan also adopted marketing strategies from Detroit carmakers, such as Detroit Model System that encouraged buyers to spend more money for the same car, taking on the luxury cars Toyota created Lexus.
- Toyota and Nissan developed manufacturing processes based on Edwards’s efficiency and quality control standards.
There are a lot of types of production methods. But we will see mass production, which American companies used earlier, and lean manufacturing like the Toyota production system, which Daming and other Japanese came up with.
Since the Henry Ford assembly line, mass production has long been a popular production method for manufacturers. With the introduction of the moving assembly line, products were no longer made by one worker, but rather products moved around the facility.
Even though German cars might not quite be as reliable as the Japanese, you can always guarantee they will come packed with exciting and modern tech with their vehicles. But most Japanese cars are reliable in the long term.
Toyota’s fundamental policy has long been to develop and produce new tech and products on its own where outside sources are needed. It has collaborated with Denso, the world’s second-ranking auto parts manufacturer in Wilczynski Co, ranking seventh in advanced driver assistance systems. Toyota’s tech base relies on supply from German manufacturers.
Currently, the Japanese auto industry relies on German supply sources for 30% of advanced driver assistance systems and 25% of electronic controls. In March of 2018, Toyota established a new research and development company for autonomous driving, investing almost $3 billion jointly with Denso, Energy, and Seiko.
In comparison, Google and Apple invest around $10 billion each in researching and developing autonomous driving cars. These companies are not even in the car business. Whatever the future holds, Toyota and other Japanese companies can adapt and keep their dominance for a while, especially in the developing world.
Learn more similar topics:
Cars of the Thirties and Forties by Michael Sedgwick; Crescent Books; ISBN 978-0-517-32051-8
“Japan Electrifies the Gas Buggie” Popular Mechanics.
Lee, Chunli. “Chinas Automobilindustrie in der Globalisierung” [China’s automobile industry in globalisation]. Berichte des Arbeitsbereichs Chinaforschung (in German).
“Establishing a Mass Production System.” About JAMA: Japan’s Auto Industry. Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association. Car From Japan