japanese car brands

Which Japanese car brands are popular?

23 May 2022

Japanese car brands are recognised and valued all over the world – not only for their share in the passenger cars, but also for other areas of activity. A lot of things are changing, the globalisation keeps on spreading, and yet the Japanese cars stand out from others.


A short history of the Japanese automotive industry

Contemporary Japan is an extremely technologically advanced country, famous for its tycoons in almost every modern industry. This is not a coincidence. After the end of the Second World War, the Japanese government decided to focus on developing science and technology – and this choice has definitely paid off, as nowadays products of the Japanese brands are used on a daily basis in nearly every country all over the world.

The beginnings of the automotive industry in the Land of the Rising Sun have its origin even further in the past – in 1917. It is then when the Mitsubishi Model A was created, which is considered to be the first Japanese car mass-produced in history. Its construction was based on one of the then-contemporary Fiats, and the “mass-production” term might be slightly exaggerated. It ended after manufacturing 22 copies.



In the following years, Mitsubishi continued to conduct experiments – this is how the T1 model was created, being the first Japanese cargo car. Later, the constructors created the PX33 model, which stood out for its four-wheel drive. However, it was not implemented for production.


American cars on the Japanese market

It’s all very interesting, due to the fact that the Japanese manufacturer did not aim at the automotive industry itself, but we’ll get back to that in a while. The real Japanese car boom came later – along with the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Being a party in both conflicts, Americans noticed that introducing their own vehicles to the Eastern Asia is simply uneconomic. Instead of this, they ordered them from Japan.

Japanese car brands then manufactured the cars based on the American constructions, making the use of the temporary demand, but this situation didn’t last for long. Copying ready solutions wasn’t perceived well, so no wonder that later on, the car brands from Japan decided to develop their own solutions.


The Japanese car brands which did not start with manufacturing cars

The recognised European manufacturers often started their businesses in various automotive industries, and remained there until today. However, when it comes to the Japanese car brands, it was often completely the opposite.


Mitsubishi – from the marine transport to the moto industry

A good example of such “alternative” way is Mitsubishi. The company functioned at first in the transport industry. It disposed of several steamships, and it prospered well. Later, it invested in mines, shipyards and even in… post services. During more less the same time when the company was experimenting in the automotive industry, it also manufactured… airplanes.


Toyota – car manufacturing in… a weaving workshop

The history of Toyota, founded in 1918, is also interesting – and also not connected with the automotive industry, at least in the first period. At the beginning of the history of the company it was… a weaving workshop. The stay in the United States of the Toyota owner’s son led to the growth of the company’s interest in cars – and this is how, among the weaving workshops in the 30s, an automotive department was founded. Everybody knows the rest of the story.


Subaru – airplanes, and only then cars

The Subaru brand was created in the 50s of the 20th century, but the company responsible for it has a much longer history, which to some extent is parallel to the history of the Japanese industry. The Nakajima Aircraft Company dealt with manufacturing airplanes and armament. After the Second World War, the Fuji Heavy Industries was founded, a part of which was Subaru – dealing with cars.


Suzuki – looms with which the world fell in love

Currently, the Suzuki brand is unambiguously associated with passenger cars and motorcycles manufacturing. It also offers gasoline engines, but hasn’t always been the case. The history of Suzuki reaches 1909. The company dealt with manufacturing the weaving equipment, which was used by the silk producers. What is more, the Suzuki looms were exported from Japan nearly worldwide. In the 30s, the owner of the company came to he conclusion that it would be a good idea to diversify the business – and this is how he started to get interested in cars.


Japanese cars and their popular models

The latest models and the already trusted construction from the past. The Japanese car brands have had a massive share in the automotive history, delivering tons of emotions to the driving enthusiasts. You can be also sure that they haven’t said their last word, especially since they are eagerly chosen in many countries all over the world –  both in the car dealerships and the secondary market. Here are the most popular Japanese car brands.




The first cars sold by Mazda had… only three wheels. These vehicles were some specific trucks, which turned out to be a hit. Very soon, they started to be exported from the Land of Rising Sun to China. The works on developing passenger cars were on-going, however, the process was slowed down due to the war. The breakthrough took place in the 60s, when the R360 model was presented to the world, equipped – interestingly – with the gasoline V2 engine of the 0.4-liter capacity.

It stood out with its low fuel consumption, which cannot be said about the Wankel engines, which were developed by Mazda in the following years. The rotary engines were advanced, secured impressive results, and at the same time… consumed massive amounts of fuel.

In its later history, Mazda created many other successful models, which – along with introducing subsequent generations on the market – were continued to be manufactured for decades. At some point, Mazda was mainly associated with excessive body rusting. However, today it has a completely different image – it’s a modern producer, which offers probably the prettiest Japanese cars in the recent years.

The best-selling globally models are: Mazda CX-5, Mazda 3 and Mazda CX-30.



It all started already in 1911, when Masujiro Hashimoto founded his first business in Tokio. Having received the essential experience in the United States, after some time he constructed the first car, which he called by the acronym DAT. The associations of he automotive enthusiasts who reach quite far back into the past are correct – it was the first step towards the creation of the Datsuna later on. The company itself changed its name to Nissan, but eventually under this name only trucks were released.

Quite soon, Nissan was placed as the second biggest manufacturer in the Land of the Rising Sun. The latest history of Nissan reaches back to the turning of the centuries. It is then when the cooperation with Renault started, which was gradually expanding. Nissan remains to be one of the most popular Japanese car brands, and its latest models are exported to over 160 countries.



The most commonly purchased Nissan models in Europe in the recent years are i.a.: Nissan Qashqai, Nissan Juke, Nissan X-Trail.



Since the year it was founded – 1989 – Infiniti is inseparably associated with Nissan. It often happens that the Japanese car brands have their won luxurious “branches”. This is exactly the case with Infinity, which in principle was supposed sell, based on the Nissan solutions, but more luxurious cars in America. In 2008, the company entered the European market, but it didn’t stay there for long.

In 2019, it was decided to stop the sale in the Western Europe – partially due to the gradually tightening EU emission standards, and partially because Europe was never a significantly profitable target. As it can be read in the messages from the company representatives, the luxurious brand from the Land of the Rising Sun can be purchased on its most important markets – the American one and the Chinese one.

Infinity has disappeared for some time from Europe, but the kind memory of the powerful FX35model, the hybrid Q50S, and the urban Q30 (along with its off-road QX30 version) will definitely remain.



Toyota Motor Corporation was officially founded in 1937, although already earlier the founders of the company had been gaining the business experience. However, they did not limit themselves to the weaving industry. They conducted experiments with the engine construction as well as the vehicles themselves, laying the foundation for the currently biggest Japanese car brand. In the following years, the history was almost writing itself, filling the pages with entire series. Here, we mean the Land Cruiser, the Corolla and the Crown models. It is Toyota which launched the mass-production of the Prius model – the first popular car with the hybrid drive.

When it comes to the Japanese car brands nowadays, Toyota seconds to none, leading ahead of other in terms of the global sales volume. Toyota is also in the top on the world scale – in the recent years it has even been first, over which it regularly competes with the Volkswagen group.

Besides, just take a look at the world sales ranking – according to the data from 2020:

  • The Toyota Corolla was the best-selling car worldwide – the compact from the Land of the Rising Sun was sold in over 1.134 million copies.
  • The Toyota RAV-4 was… second among the best-selling cars worldwide – nearly 996.000 copies were sold.
  • Top 10 was the Toyota Camry (592.000 copies), 13th was taken by Toyota Yaris (458.500), and 14th was taken by the Toyota Hilux (457.800 copies).

Taking a look at the top 20 of the ranking, one can notice that it is dominated by the Japanese cars. Their popularity simple cannot be denied. The world definitely appreciated the advantages of the cars from Japan.




Toyota also has its own premium brand. In its case it’s Lexus – the company founded, similarly to Infinity – in 1989. The plans for it were ambitious right from the beginning. It wasn’t about just introducing a more luxurious version of Toyota, but creating a Japanese car brand which would be able to challenge the most luxurious opponents – the Mercedes S Class, the BMW Series 7, and the Jaguar XJ. This is how Lexus was created, which has been doing very well on every market it’s present.

Lexus offers luxurious limousines, off-road cars, as well as sports “babies” in the quality of the LFA model, implementing the latest technologies in order to satisfy high-performance aspirations and extreme driving sensations.



The company refuses to run away from the rigid emission standards. Already in 2020, the absolute majority of the Lexus cars in the Western and the Central Europe consisted of the vehicles with the hybrid drive.



The Honda company was founded in 1948, but its owner had already gained some experience – for example in the piston rings manufacturing. Interestingly, this factory in 1945 was purchased by… Toyota. Sōichirō Honda himself manufactures also bikes, motorbikes, motorcycles, and finally cars – although, the passenger cars were not the first ones he manufactured. He started with the cargo cars, and only later the well-known nowadays Japanese Honda passenger cars were introduced.

This is how the history of the literally timeless Honda Civic has started. It was followed by the sports Honda Prelude and the Honda Accord (which, by the way, only with time started to “grow”). Today, Honda manufactures not only cars, but also motorcycles, mopeds, and airplanes. It is also known for manufacturing engines – Honda is the biggest manufacturer of engines worldwide. It also offers a variety of industrial machinery and devices.



If “a simple Honda” is not enough for somebody, they can always reaching for the Acura brand cars. Being a property of Honda, the company was founded in 1986, being the first one to offer luxurious Japanese cars outside of the Land of the Rising Sun. More powerful engines, richer equipment, the impression of the uniqueness – these characteristics made driver from America fall in love with Acura. Acura also gave the signal to the rest of the Japanese manufacturers to spread the scope of their interest to the premium segment.

The United States, Canada, China, Hongkong, and even Mexico – these are target countries for the cars manufactured by Acura. To Europe, the Acura cars are imported for the individual drivers – although, at least some time ago, it was possible to order the cars via the British representative of Honda.

An interesting fact is, that Acura has its dealership in Berlin… only that it is not the capital city of Germany, but the city of Berlin in USA, in the state of Connecticut.



First Japanese cars in history, earlier also locomotives, airplanes, various industrial devices – there aren’t many industries, in which Mitsubishi hasn’t had a share at some point. Let’s return to the passenger car manufacturing, which not always was the apple of the eye of the company from the Land of the Rising Sun. Already in the post-war period, the company primarily specialised in the utility vehicles, and it is them what was the core of the company business.

With time, new contracts arrived – i.a. for manufacturing the Jeeps. In 1960, Mitsubishi introduced for manufacturing the model 500, with a 20-HP engine. It did well both in the city and on the racetrack. When it comes to the competitive sports, the Japanese manufacturer had in its offer a definitely more legendary model. The Mitsubishi Lancer – especially in its EVO version – ignited the imagination of the automotive fans probably in every country in the world.

Today, the brand offer includes i.a.: the Mitsubishi Space Star, the successor of the small Colt model, the hybrid Eclipse Cross (which shares only its name with the sports Eclipse from the past) and the popular L200 pickup.



The adventure of Daihatsu with the European market did not last long. In the case of this Japanese car brand with a very rich manufacturing history, as it was founded already in 1907, the reasons were completely different than in the the case of the second absent brand, Infinity. Offering small, not so advanced, and in addition slightly technically outdated and of a questionable sustainability cars, the company had no chance in competing with the opponents, including the cars of its new owner – Toyota.

One of the interesting model of the Japanese brand was the peculiar Daihatsu Copen, the last cry for help in Europe was the Materia model… but “peculiar” is actually all that can be said about both of them – from the point of view of the European market – to be fair.



Are Japanese cars popular in Europe?

Interesting constructions, latest technology, driving sensations and other advantages of the cars from Japan make them popular not only on the Japanese market, but also in Europe or in North America. In interesting case are the Toyota cars mass exported to Africa – already aged by several years and more. In this case, the legendary reliability of the models from the previous years is what matter here, e.g. the Land Cruiser, the Hilux and the Corolla.

In the Europe itself, the competition is massive, which is why dominating the market is not an easy task for the Japanese cars. They are definitely one of the most often chosen cars, however – considering the data from 2021 – the most favourite brand was Volkswagen, which sold 1.27 million cars. The second most popular brand was Peugeot (724.000 sold copies), and only after it was Toyota (712.000 copies). It is still an excellent result.

Drivers are also interested in the Japanese cars from the secondary market – valued for their sustainability and reliability. Besides, just take a look – a quick glance is enough to see that there is plenty of the cars from Japan, aside from Toyota itself there is also a lot of copies of Honda, Suzuki, Nissan, and Mazda.



Does this article seem interesting to you? Also, check out the products offered by autoDNA – the leading provider of vehicle history reports in Europe and the USA. Free VIN lookup can help you avoid extra costs of buying a car with an unknown past. You can perform a VIN check 24/7 throughout the year. – all you need is the Internet access and the VIN number of the vehicle you want to check.


If you’re interested not only in the Japanese brands, but also others, take a look at our article devoted to the biggest automotive companies in the world. You can learn from it how the globalisation impacts the manufacturing in the entire automotive industry – as well as what the the theoretically radically different cars have in common.


Also read other articles in our series:

  1. “What Polish cars have been driven?”
  2. “What do the French car brands stand out for?”
  3. “What are the Italian car brands like?”
  4. American car brands – check which cars are from USA”
  5. “What are the German car brands like?”
Which Japanese car brands are popular?
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Which Japanese car brands are popular?
Japanese car brands are recognised and valued all over the world – not only for their share in the passenger cars, but also for other areas of activity.
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