The history of Japanese automobile companies dates back to the early 20th century. In 1907, Komanosuke Uchiyama, an engineer from Tokyo Motor Vehicle Works, built the first Japanese gasoline engine, the Takuri.
Several efforts and investments were made to further refine gasoline engines and vehicle structure design. During the 1930s, many Japanese car manufacturers emerged and began to experiment with new materials (like plastics) and new technologies (like hydraulic brakes and automatic transmissions).
In the mid-1950s, Japanese car companies started exporting vehicles to other countries. Toyota, for example, was the first brand to export its Toyopet Crown sedan to the United States in 1957.
Between the 1970s and 1990s, the automotive industry in Japan witnessed tremendous growth. Since Japanese cars had already gained popularity and significant market share in the United States and European countries, they were able to invest more in production facilities and research and development. This ultimately led to lower prices and higher sales volumes.
Since the 1970s, Japan has been among the top three countries in motor vehicle production. Their cars are famous across the world for several reasons, including.
- Fuel efficiency: Many Japanese vehicles contain lightweight engines to deliver impressive gas mileage
- Reliability: They are designed to withstand years of use with minimal maintenance
- Innovation: Japanese automobiles are often among the first to integrate new features like entertainment systems, hybrid engines, and advanced safety features.
- Customer services: They have gained a good reputation for being responsive and helpful. Big brands have a vast network across the world to offer excellent after-sales service.
These big brands are a major contributor to the Japanese economy — they employ millions of locals and generate billions of dollars in revenue every quarter. They also contribute to various sub-industries, such as materials and equipment supply, road transport, and sales and services.
Below, we have listed the top Japanese car brands that are at the forefront of technological innovation and leading the automobile sector.
Our listing criteria are based on the company’s popularity, annual revenue, number of car units sold, number of people employed, and expenditure on research and development. All cost figures have been converted into US dollars.
Table of Contents
Founded in 2010
GLM is a relatively new car brand that focuses on developing electric sports cars and EV-related technologies. It mainly provides mass production and R&D support to domestic and international automakers, as well as technical and development support for automobile-related services, such as materials, chemicals, and components.
In recent years, the company has gained recognition for its unique design and high-performance electric sports cars. It has developed several production models and concept vehicles, showcasing expertise in EV technology.
One of their most notable achievement is Tommykaira ZZ, a high-performance EV car with 305 horsepower and a 155 mph top speed. The company has also collaborated with European car makers to produce GLM-G4, an electric supercar.
The G4 produces 500 horsepower and 1000 Nm torque that can be split between the front and rear wheels as per the driver’s preference. It goes from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 3.7 seconds and has a claimed range of 250 miles.
Did you know?
GLM was originally founded as ‘Green Lord Motors’ in 2010, but the company later changed its name to GLM to better reflect its focus on electric mobility and sustainable transportation.
Founded in 1953
Annual Revenue: $26.5 billion+
Number of Employees: 36,900+
Subaru is a part of the larger conglomerate, Subaru Corporation, which also includes other businesses like industrial machinery, aerospace, and eco-technology.
What makes Subaru different from other car brands is its all-wheel drive technology. Almost all Subaru vehicles come with a standard all-wheel-drive system, which provides them excellent traction and stability in various driving conditions. They perform well in ice, snow, and other challenging weather conditions.
Subaru vehicles use the boxer engine configuration, especially in cars above 1,500 CC. The combination of boxer engine layout, symmetrical all-wheel drive technology, and transmission balanced over the front axle provides optimal weight distribution with a low center of gravity.
Their most popular models include Levorg, Outback, Legacy, Impreza, and Forester. They also produce turbocharged versions of passenger cars, such as Outback XT, Forester XT, Legacy GT, and WRX.
Did you know?
Subaru produces more than 734,000 vehicles every year. Its most popular model is Subaru Outback, with over 147,000 units sold in the United States in 2022.
Isuzu D-Max 5 seater Truck
Founded in 1934
Annual Revenue: $17.8 billion+
Number of Employees: 36,800+
Isuzu produces commercial vehicles (including SUVs, trucks, and buses) and diesel engines. Its commercial vehicles are tailored to suit the requirements of various industries such as transportation, agriculture, and construction.
Its diesel engines are used by many big automobile companies, including General Motors. More specifically, Isuzu has a joint venture with General Motors named DMAX, which builds diesel engines for GMC Canyon and Chevrolet Colorado pickup trucks.
To date, the company has produced more than 26 million engines worldwide, with tailored solutions for market-specific needs. It builds over 600,000 diesel engines per year, making it one of the world’s biggest diesel engine manufacturers.
It has also won many awards and accolades for its engines, including the Best Medium Van Engine at the 2020 International Engine of the Year Awards for its 3.0-liter Ddi BluePower engine, and the Best Pickup Engine at the 2019 International Engine of the Year Awards for its 1.9-liter Ddi BluePower engine.
Isuzu is also the world’s largest manufactures of heavy-duty and medium-sized trucks, with a global market share of about 8 percent. It leads Thailand’s commercial vehicle industry and has a strong presence in Southeast Asia.
Did you know?
In 1961, Isuzu produced its first passenger car, the Bellel. It was named after the French word for ‘beautiful.’ This four-door sedan car was designed to compete with other mid-sized personal vehicles of that time, such as the Nissan Bluebird and Toyota Crown.
Founded in 1920
Annual Revenue: $25.5 billion+
Number of Employees: 48,500+
Headquartered in Hiroshima, Mazda is a leading Japanese multinational automotive company. Its biggest market is the United States, China, and Japan.
While the company was founded in 1920, it didn’t produce its first vehicle until 1931, which was a small three-wheeled truck. From the 1930s to the 1950s, it manufactured many commercial vehicles and trucks. In 1960, the company introduced its first passenger car, the R360. It became an instant hit, allowing Mazda to compete with big players in the automotive industry.
Today, Mazda manufactures a wide range of vehicles characterized by their unique designs, performance, and sporty handling. Some of its most popular models include Mazda CX-5, MX-5 Miata, Mazda 6, Mazda 3, CX-9, and RX-8.
Mazda MX-5, in particular, is a popular two-seater sports car that has won several awards and accolades for its performance and dynamically balanced and minimally complex design.
Mazda is also a technology-focused company. It has introduced numerous innovative techs in recent years. Mazda Co-pilot Concept, for example, is an advanced driving support technology that monitors drivers’ physical conditions to reduce potential risks. i-ACTIVSENSE is an active safety system that recognizes the external surrounding to minimize damage in scenarios where a crash cannot be avoided.
Did you know?
Mazda MX-5 is one of the best-selling two-seater sports cars of all time, with more than one million units sold worldwide since its inception in 1989. The reason behind its success is its design philosophy of ‘Jinba Ittai,’ which means ‘horse and rider as one’ in Japanese.
This philosophy emphasizes the connection between the driver and his car, and has influenced many of the company’s design and engineering decisions over the past three decades.
Founded in 1909
Annual Revenue: $15.8 billion+
Number of Employees: 68,500+
Suzuki produces automobiles, all-terrain vehicles, motorcycles, various small internal combustion engines, and outboard marine engines. Its vehicles are popular in many countries, especially in India, Japan, and Indonesia.
The company is well-known for manufacturing compact cars, such as Swift, which are popular among the middle class due to their low maintenance and high fuel efficiency. It also manufactures SUVs, such as Jimny and Vitara, which are known for their durability and off-road capabilities.
While Suzuki operates in more than 180 countries, it has a strong presence in the Indian market. In India, Suzuki operates through a joint venture called Maruti Suzuki India Limited, which accounts for more than half of Suzuki’s global production.
Suzuki has partnered with Toyota and collaborated with big automakers, including Fiat and General Motors, to develop hybrid and electric vehicles.
It also has a long history in motorsports — Suzuki has participated in the MotoGP motorcycle racing championship, the World Rally Championship (with its Swift model), and the Isle of Man TT.
Did you know?
In 2019, Suzuki partnered with Huawei to develop a connected car system utilizing 5G technology. The partnership aims to integrate Suzuki’s expertise in automotive engineering and Huawei’s expertise in cloud and 5G technologies to develop an efficient, seamless connected car system.
The system is a part of Huawei’s OceanConnect platform, which has several useful applications, including vehicle diagnostic, predictive maintenance, and real-time traffic information.
Founded in 1970
Annual Revenue: $101.2 billion+
Number of Employees: 42,600+
Mitsubishi Motors has a reputation for manufacturing vehicles that are both practical and fun to drive, with a focus on low emissions and better fuel efficiency.
Some of its most popular models include the Mirage hatchback, the Mirage G4 sedan, and the Outlander SUV. It also manufactures all-electric cars that are environmentally friendly and cost-efficient.
Mitsubishi has developed several unique car technologies, including
- Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) technology: it utilizes a combination of gasoline and electric power to enhance fuel efficiency and minimize emissions
- Super-Select 4WD system: it allows drives to switch between four-wheel and two-wheel drive modes on the fly.
- MIVEC Engine technology: it is a valve timing electronic control system that uses variable valve timing to improve power and fuel efficiency.
- Active Stability Control: it is a safety feature that uses multiple sensors to detect wheel slip or loss of traction. In such cases, it applies the brakes to individual wheels to provide better control and stability.
The company has received several awards for its safety features, including the Top Safety Pick+ award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, one of the highest safety ratings an automobile company can receive.
Moreover, Mitsubishi has patterned with several other car brands over the years, including Volvo, Chrysler, and The PSA Group, to develop improved electric and hybrid vehicles.
Did you know?
The name Mitsubishi is derived from two Japanese words, ‘mitsu’ meaning ‘three’ and ‘hishi’ meaning ‘water chestnut.’ The three diamonds (or three rhombuses) in the logo symbolize reliability, integrity, and success.
Founded in 1933
Annual Revenue: $74.4 billion+
Number of Employees: 131,000+
Nissan produces a broad range of vehicles, from compare cars to large SUVs and trucks. It is among the top 10 largest automobile manufacturers in the world and the leading Japanese car brand in China, the United States, Mexico, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Russia.
Some of its most popular models include Nissan Altima, Nissan Rogue, Nissan Maxima, Nissan Titan, and Nissan Pathfinder. It also sells the Nissan GT-R sports car, Nissan Frontier pickup truck, Nissan Leaf electric car, and many other hybrid models.
The Nissan Leaf, in particular, is the world’s first mass-produced electric car. Released in 2010, it has now become one of the top-selling electric cars worldwide. More than 650,000 Leaf units have been sold globally since its launch, just behind the Tesla Model 3.
Nissan is also known for its commitment to sustainability and state-of-the-art technology. It aims to achieve carbon neutrality across its products’ lifecycle and operations by 2050. Plus, every Nissan vehicle in key markets will be electrified by the early 2030s.
Nissan is also investing billions in various electrification technologies like all-solid-state batteries and more efficient internal combustion engines.
Did you know?
Nissan has developed an advanced autonomous drive technology called ProPILOT. It’s a combination of accelerating, braking, and steering system that can operate in fully automatic mode, easing driver workload in long commutes and heavy highway traffic.
Founded in 1948
Annual Revenue: $125.1 billion+
Number of Employees: 204,000+
Headquartered in Minato, Tokyo, Honda manufactures automobiles, motorcycles, and power equipment. It is the largest manufacturer of internal combustion engines by volume, building over 14 million internal combustion engines every year.
The company sales a wide range of cars, the most popular being
- Honda Civic — known for its sporty design and impressive fuel efficiency
- Honda Accord — a midsize sedan with a spacious interior and advanced safety features
- Honda Pilot — a midsize SUV with a seating capacity of eight people and a spacious cargo area
- Honda CR-V — a compact crossover SUV popular for its practicality and versatility
- Honda Odyssey — a minivan that features Lane Departure and Forward Collision Warning, CabinTalk, CabinWatch, and Magic Slide second-row seats.
Honda is the first Japanese car brand to open a manufacturing plant in the US. In 1983, Honda established a plant in Marysville, Ohio, to decrease trade tensions between the United States and Japan. In 1986, they launched the first Japanese luxury car brand, Acura, in the US. In 1999, Honda became the first automobile company to unveil a hybrid car in the US, the Honda Insight.
The company has set a goal of making all its products and operations carbon-neutral by 2050. They aim to increase the sales ratio of fuel cell cars and electric vehicles in developed nations to 40% by 2030, 80% by 2035, and 100 by 2040.
Did you know?
In 2008, Honda released a hydrogen fuel cell car named FCX Clarity. It was the first vehicle to be leased to retail customers and was highly praised for its zero emissions and quiet operation.
Founded in 1937
Annual Revenue: $267.2 billion+
Number of Employees: 372,000+
In the 1950s and 1960s, Toyota took advantage of Japan’s rapidly growing economy to sell fuel-efficient cars to a growing middle class. In 1966, the company released Corolla with a new 1100 cc K pushrod engine. It became an instant hit, allowing Toyota to expand its facilities in the international market.
In 2012, Toyota became the world’s first automobile company to build over 10 million vehicles per year. It is currently the largest automaker in Japan, the second largest in the United States (behind General Motors), and among the top 15 companies in the world by revenue.
The company sells its products under four brands:
- Daihatsu, and
- the namesake Toyota
It has a strong presence in the US, with many manufacturing plants and Research and Development centers located there. In fact, its total vehicle production and sales in the US substantially impact the country’s economy.
According to the Center for Automotive Research, Toyota’s operations in the US (directly and indirectly) support more than 200,000 jobs and contribute over $35 billion to the country’s economy.
It has also been praised for developing more fuel-efficient hybrid electric cars in the 1990s. Toyota Prius, for example, is one of the most successful vehicles that combine an internal combustion engine with an electric motor. As of today, Toyota sells over 40 hybrid vehicle models worldwide.
Did you know?
Toyota’s logo features three ovals in a horizontally symmetrical configuration. The two ovals inside the larger one symbolize the heart of the customer and the heart of the company. The large oval represents the world that embraces Toyota. The empty background in the logo represents the company’s values: excellent quality, safety, innovation, and environment and social responsibility.
Other Reputable Brands
Founded in 1968
Mitsuoka is a privately-held company owned by the Mitsuoka family. It specializes in manufacturing eccentric cars with retro designs. Most of its models are known for their unique styling that often incorporates American or British automotive design elements, giving them a nostalgic and classic appearance.
While the company builds a range of vehicles, from sports and convertibles to sedan cars, it has a relatively smaller production volume compared to other automobile companies. And its vehicles are usually considered boutique or niche models.
Some of its famous models include
- Orochi: a two-seater convertible sports car that features an aggressive design with sharp lines and unique styling cues
- Rock Star: a luxury sedan model that resembles the classic American muscle cars of the 1950s and 1960s.
- Galue: a sedan model that resembles British luxury cars like Bentley and Rolls-Royce
- Viewt: a retro-style compact car inspired by the Jaguar MK II
- Himiko: a convertible sports car featuring a long hood, round headlights, and a flowing body shape
Did you know?
To date, Mitsuoka has shipped more than 12,000 vehicles, including 8,000 units of micro cars (one-passenger cars) and 350 units of Mitsuoka Zero-1 (a sports car).
Founded in 1975
Dome Corporation designs and manufactures racing cars for several motorsports disciplines, including open-wheel racing, touring car racing, and endurance racing. These cars are known for their high performance, innovative design, and advanced engineering.
Dome has years of experience in developing suspension systems, chassis, aerodynamic bodies, and other key components of racing cars. The company has been involved in notable racing series, including Super Formula, Super GT, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and various domestic and international racing championships.
Their cars have won several championships in the GT500 class. Perhaps Dome’s most remarkable success was the 2002 Le Mans, when its Dome S101 prototype achieved a top-10 finish.
Besides manufacturing racing cars, Dome also contributes to other engineering projects, such as industrial and aerospace projects.
Did you know?
Dome Corporation was founded by a former employee of Yamaha Motor Company, Minoru Hayashi. He initially started it as a motorcycle components manufacturer but later transitioned to motorsports and racing car constructor.
Founded in 2005
Aspark focuses on developing cutting-edge electric cars with excellent performance and advanced technology. Its most significant achievement is Aspark Owl, an all-electric hypercar that claims to accelerate from 0 to 62 mph in 1.9 seconds and 0 to 186 mph in 10.6 seconds.
As per the company’s official website, it has 25+ offices across the world, including Japan, Switzerland, Thailand, and Indonesia. It employs about 3,500 people and has global sales in excess of $160 million.
Did you know?
Aspark Owl is developed in a remarkably short timeframe. Its first prototype was introduced as a concept car in 2017, and the production version was unveiled in 2019. Owl’s estimated starting price is about $3.6 million, which makes it one of the most expensive production cars in the world.
More to Know
What kind of technology and innovation do Japanese vehicles have?
Japanese automakers have developed advanced technologies to improve the safety, performance, and comfort of their cars. The most prominent tech and features include
Autonomous driving: It utilizes a range of software and hardware to automate various aspects of driving, minimizing accidents caused by human errors and maximizing passenger comfort. Honda, for instance, has developed a proprietary driver assistance system called Honda Sensing. Toyota has built its own Safety Sense suite that features lane departure warning systems and adaptive cruise control.
Autonomous Emergency Braking: It’s a safety feature that identifies potential collision scenarios and applies the brake automatically to prevent or decrease the impact of the collision. Mazda and Subaru have developed such safety systems that accurately react to various types of obstacles, including pedestrians, animals, vehicles, and objects.
Hybrid and Electric Vehicles: Japanese companies continue to innovate and invest in R&D to enhance the performance and efficiency of green vehicles. Toyota Prius, Honda Clarity, Nissan Leaf, and The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV are well-known electric and hybrid vehicles that have the potential to decrease greenhouse gas and improve air quality significantly.
Fuel Cell Technology: While many fuel-efficient and ultra-efficient cars are already mass-produced, hydrogen-powered vehicles are expected to be the next big thing in the transportation sector. Japanese automakers have been working on hydrogen fuel cell technology since the early 1990s, which is projected to reach a market size of over $43.2 billion by 2031, growing at a CAGR of 45.5% from 2023 to 2031.
Toyota Mirai, Honda Clarity Fuel Cell, Nissan X-Trail Fuel Cell Vehicle, and Mitsubishi Fuso Canter E-CELL are some popular examples of hydrogen-fueled vehicles.
Japanese cars vs. European Cars
While European car brands like Audi, Mercedes-Benz, and BMW are often associated with luxury and high-performance vehicles, Japanese car brands prioritize practicality, efficiency, and reliability.
The difference is in the type of vehicle they manufacture. European automobile companies build luxury sedans, SUVs, and high-end sports cars. In contrast, Japanese companies build a range of vehicles, from economy cars to compact SUVs and family sedans.
What’s the best-selling Japanese car of all time?
Toyota Corolla is the best-selling Japanese car of all time, with more than 51 million units sold worldwide since its introduction in 1966. There have been twelve generations of Corolla; each has seen significant improvements in terms of designs, performance, and features.
The latest generation, revealed in 2018, continues to be a popular choice for car buyers across the world.
What’s the most-expensive Japanese vehicle ever sold?
The Toyota 2000GT is the most-expensive Japanese car ever sold at auction. On March 5th, 2022, one of the three Toyota-Shelby 2000GTs was sold for $2,535,000 at Gooding & Company’s Amelia Island auction.
Japan Passenger Car Market
According to the ResearchAndMarkets report, Japan’s passenger car market will reach $65.59 billion by 2028, growing at a CAGR of 9.39% from 2023 to 2028. This includes hatchbacks, sedans, utility vehicles, and multi-purpose vehicles.