We’ve previously taken a look at a few of our favourite European car brands - looking at French, Germany, and Italy but we’re now looking beyond the continent to the wider world and in the next few weeks will be taking a look at our top five picks for Asia and the US. Today we’ve rounded up our top five Asian car manufacturers below.
Toyota is a car manufacturer recognised around the world but that wasn’t always the case, in fact the company’s roots are in a very different industry.
Sakichi Toyoda started developing looms in Japan during the 1890s and went on to produce the world’s first automatic loom, which helped to reduce defects and increase yields revolutionising the weaving industry at the time.
His machine stopped if there was a flaw to prevent it from continuing to weave and this automatic stop and alert principle on the equipment is still used in the Toyota production system today.
In order to manufacture and market this automatic loom Sakichi Toyoda formed the Toyoda Automatic Loom Works, LTD (now known as Toyota Industries Corporation) in 1926. In 1933 Sakichi used the profits from selling some of the rights to his loom so that his son Kiichiro could establish an automobile department in the company. Within three years their first car the Toyoda Model A passenger car.
A year later, in 1937, Toyoda’s Automobile Department separated from its parent company and became Toyota Motor Co, LTD (now Toyota Motor Corporation). From there the company continued to grow and production of vehicles expanded outside Japan in 1959 when the company opened a plant in Brazil. Today they have plants, subsidiaries and affiliates around the globe.
Toyota have produced some of the world’s most popular models including the Corolla, which has sold over 44 million models worldwide, the Prius which is known for its quiet drive and the Rav4 SUV.
Toyota has been a strong presence on the US motorsport racing tracks for over 40 years with the Toyota Racing Development (TRD) team. They’ve had success across various platforms including NASCAR regional series, NHRA’s Top Fuel and Funny Car classes, Formula Drift and midget car racing across the country. And this success has not only helped TRD with the cars they race on the track but also with the models they produce for all drivers. The most recent and notable example of this is the 2020 Camry which pairs the engine power of the racetrack with real-world practicalities of safety features and innovative self-charging hybrid technology.
In the 1980s Toyota established a luxury car brand to compete with rival brands that were beginning to emerge like Nissan’s Infinity brand. The brand Toyota created was Lexus, one that is renowned around the world for their top of the range vehicles.
The Nissan name was first used in Japan in 1934 when Jidosha Seizo Co., Ltd’s name was changed to Nissan Motor Co., Ltd but the company began several years before that. In 1910 Yoshisuke Aikawa established the Tobata Casting Co., Ltd a company who manufactured automobile parts and would continue to grow until established its Automotive Division in 1933, and Yoshisuke’s two holding companies Nihon Sangyo and Togata Casting came together and established Jidosha Seizo Co., Ltd.
Since then Nissan have exported models worldwide and become a brand known for their compact hatchbacks and large SUVs alike. Before we look into some of Nissan’s top models we’ve got a little more history to get through, and that’s how Datsun came to be an integral part of the Nissan business.
Just a year after the Tobata Casting Co was established another Japanese entrepreneur Masujiro Hashimoto established the Kwaishinsha Motor Car Works and was soon at the front of Japan’s domestic automobile industry. At the time the company was established the Japanese car market was dominated by imported brands like Ford and General Motors. Just three years after the company was founded it produced its first car, the DAT.
The Kwaishinsha Motor Car Works became the Kwaishinsha Motor Car Co., Ltd in 1918 and continued to grow in size and ambition launching the first single body casting four-cylinder engine in the country in the Model 41 DAT.
Meanwhile, the third company in Nissan’s history, the Jitsuyo Jidosha Seizo Co., Ltd took on the production of American engineer William R. Gorham’s three-wheel vehicle in 1919.
These two companies merged in 1926 becoming the DAT Jidosha Seizo Co., Ltd and then five years later they became a subsidiary of the Tobata Casting Co., Ltd who at this time were looking to expand into the automobile industry and advance Japan’s domestic automotive industry, and that year they developed their first 495cc compact size passenger vehicle. In 1932 subsidiary company’s name was changed and Datsun was created. Datsun remains a part of the Nissan brand and continues to sell vehicles around the world today.
In the late 1930s Nissan continued to produce Datsun cars and with World War Two like many motoring manufacturers at the time they had to diversify and also produced trucks and planes for the Japanese army.
After the war, Nissan partnered with a number of other automotive companies throughout the 1950s and 60s including the Prince Motor Company, which introduced models that remain in the Nissan lineup to this day.
It was also during the 1950s that Nissan began to export their vehicles worldwide when they realised the small Datsun filling a hole in the Australian and US markets. In 1960 they opened their US subsidiary.
In 1986 Nissan’s first plant was built in the UK, in Sunderland and in just over 20 years it was Europe’s highest producing plant with over 400,000 vehicles leaving there annually. It currently remains open though there are fears that it will close due to Brexit.
Unlike other brands, Nissan has best-sellers across motoring sectors, with the Nissan Micra being an award-winning hatchback since it first arrived on our roads in the 1980s, and family favourite SUVs like the Juke and Qashqai.
Nissan also established themselves at the forefront of innovative electric technology when they introduced the Nissan Leaf to the world in 2010. Now in its second generation, the Leaf offers drivers a range of up to 239 miles on the e+ version.
As well as producing great cars for drivers in the real world Nissan also has a long motor racing history, and even established Nismo, their motor racing division. You can find out more about their success on the track and the latest vehicle developments here.
Check out our leasing deals across the full Nissan range here.
Hyundai is the newest brand to make it onto our list founded just over sixty years ago in 1947, but despite this it’s one of the largest brands on the market today.
The company started as Hyundai Engineering and Construction Company in 1947 and it unlike some of the other manufacturers who were named after their founders Hyundai was chosen as the name for its meaning. It translates roughly to modern times, coming from the Korean words Hyun (현) meaning to modern or present and Dai (대) meaning era or generation. So from their name to their approach to the post WW2 industry in South Korea the company was forward-thinking and focused on the future.
Following the liberation of South Korea in 1945 the country quickly began to develop and Hyundai was awarded some major government construction contracts and became responsible for building a large portion of the country’s transportation infrastructure as South Korea rapidly industrialised, including the Kyeong-bu expressway.
20 years after the Hyundai name first emerged, in 1967, the Hyundai Motor Company was founded. Within a year the construction of their Ulsan assembly plant was completed. This part of Hyundai’s history remains a pivotal part of their supply chain and today is one of the world’s largest integrated automobile manufacturing facility and is capable of producing 1.6 million vehicles annually.
It might surprise you to learn that the first car assembled at the plant wasn’t actually a Hyundai, in fact the first Hyundai wasn’t on the roads until 1974. The first vehicle assembled at the Ulsan plant was the Cortina in 1968, and it was the success of this vehicle in the European market that prompted Hyundai to develop its own car.
In 1974 Hyundai hired former Managing Director of Austin Morris, George Turnbull, quickly followed by six European chief engineers to assist him in developing the first Hyundai, which they presented at the Turin Motor Show in late 1974. In 1975 the Pony hit the roads, a compact rear-wheel-drive vehicle that was the first mass-produced South Korean vehicle. It was soon nicknamed Kukmincha, which meant the car of the people, and remained Hyundai’s flagship vehicle for many years.
A year later in 1976 the Pony went international and was exported to Chile, Argentina, Colombia and Egypt and European exports weren’t far behind in 1978 starting in Belgium and the Netherlands.
Today Hyundai remain focused on the future with innovative technology and push towards electric vehicles, working to reduce charging times and increase battery capacity to give greater mileage range. There’s currently electric and hybrid version of the Ioniq and Kona and Hyundai are aiming to add a further 18 new electrified models by 2025.
Take a look at our current Hyundai leasing deals here.
Mazda began life a hundred years ago in 1920 as a Japanese cork manufacturer under the name Toyo Kogyo Co., Ltc. It wasn’t until 1931 that the company produced its first vehicle which was a tricycle truck named Mazda-go and Mazda was introduced to the world.
The name was in part chosen by a key figure in Mazda’s history, the second president and a founder of the Toyo Kogyo Company, Jujiro Matsuda. It comes from Ahura Mazda who was the god of harmony, intelligence and wisdom in early civilization in West Asia. The Toyo Kogyo saw Mazda as a symbol for the beginning of civilisation in Asia as well as a symbol for the motoring industry the company was entering into.
Their Japanese heritage is something that Mazda embraces to this day and they continue to use philosophies based on traditional Japanese culture and language including their Kodo Design, which equates the connection between a car and its driver to the instinctive bond between a horse and a rider, so focuses their design on this connection.
Their focus on the driver is something that is showcased in every single Mazda interior. They use high-quality materials, often with hand-stitched leather detailing by their Takumi master craftsmen, a spacious cabin with innovative technology seamlessly integrated.
Their best cars include the MX-5, a roadster with over 30 years of history behind it. It’s the bestselling roadster of all time although it has evolved to become even stronger, safer and more fuel efficient as well as include the latest infotainment and satnav systems.
See the current great leasing offers we have on Mazdas here.
Kia is the second manufacturer in our top five Asian brands to be from South Korea, and today is partially owned by the other, Hyundai.
Kia started life in 1944 as Kyungsung Precision Industry a company that made steel tubing for bicycles. By 1951 they had moved on from making the parts to producing their own bicycles and in 1952 the Samchully was unveiled to the world as South Korea’s first bicycle. In the same year the company was renamed Kia Industries.
From bicycles the company moved onto motorcycles and started producing their own in 1957. For Kia, this jump from pushbike to motorbike was a successful one and they soon started to look at other vehicles that were emerging on the growing automobile market. In the early 1960s Kia started to produce trucks and then finally in 1974 the first Kia car was produced. The Brisa was a hit and remained on sale until they were stopped from producing cars in 1981.
In 1981 Kia was forced to stop producing passenger cars by the government who feared the automotive industry in South Korea was becoming too competitive. Over the following five years Kia focused on their light trucks until they returned to the car sector with the Kia Pride in conjunction with Ford.
In the early 1990s, Kia expanded into the US, with four dealerships in 1992 in Portland and Oregon. By 1995 there were more than a hundred dealerships in the US. Despite their growth in the US Kia was unfortunately hit hard by the Asian financial crisis in 1997 and ended up declaring bankruptcy the same year. However, they came to an agreement with Hyundai to diversify ownership between the two countries and Kia continued to create motor vehicles under their own brand. Today Hyundai own around a third of Kia Industries, still the company’s largest stakeholder and Kia, in turn, has shares in 22 subsidiaries of Hyundai.
Today Kia is known for globally for their cars that offer drivers reasonable purchase and lease prices, great fuel economy and high safety standard.
See the best Kia leasing deals here.
Think there’s a brand that should have been in our top five but didn’t make the cut? Let us know in the comments below.