History of Motor Cars in Asia


China and Japan dominated technological advances for hundreds of years until America came and dominated the world with its inventions.

Towards the end of the 18th century, Emperor Meiji saw an aging Japan while America produced telephones, phonographs, and light bulbs critical to modernization.

The Meiji Renovation

He instituted political reforms that restored “practical imperial rule.” The era became known as the “Meiji Renovation,” during which Japan rapidly industrialized and adopted western ideas and production methods.

Germany introduces the first gas-powered motor engine

German engineer Carl Benz built what is known as the first “vehicle powered by a gas engine” in 1886. America produced its first gas-powered automobile in 1893.

The first car accessible to the masses was the 1908 Model T, an American car manufactured by the Ford Motor Company. A decade later, Japan introduced the first Asian motorized car ‘Mitsubishi Model-A’ in 1917.


Mitsubishi Model-A in 1917. (Photo: Mitsubishi)

The world’s top Asian car founders

1937 ToyotaKiichiro Toyoda
1948Honda Soichiro Honda
1928NissanYoshisuke Aikawa; Masujiro Hashimoto
1920Mazda Jujiro Matsuda
1954SubaruChikuhei Nakajima
1909SuzukiMichio Suzuki
1870MitsubishiYataro Iwasaki
1953YamahaTorakusu Yamaha
1878KawasakiShozo Kawasaki
1968 Toyota Corolla 1100 Deluxe: Toyota’s affordable response to the “motorization boom” that saw Japanese families abandoning cities for the suburbs following a migration that had taken place here in the 1950s.

Toyota dominates Asia

In the decades to come, Toyota dominated the Asian market for cars. Back then, it produced smaller vehicles at affordable prices. But its vital success was the company’s aftersales strategy. Parts were readily available, easy to replace, and comparably priced lower than competitors.

The boost to Toyota’s sales was still to come when third-party automobile car manufacturers were allowed to produce replacement parts mostly from ROC (Taiwan). Although the quality was far less superior, it gave consumers a cheaper way to maintain their vehicles.

By the late 1980s, mainland China was producing replacement parts for Toyota and other Asian cars. The company built enough momentum to be regarded as the “easiest car to maintain” for years and at less cost.

China is not far behind. They may not have a global share in car manufacturers, but the country has its traditional “Big-four” state-owned domestic car manufacturers: SAIC Motor, Dongfeng, FAW, and Chang’an. China’s huge market is enough to produce and sell its cars.

South Korean cars that are gaining global momentum

1944KiaKim Cheol-ho
1967Daewoo Kim Woo-Choong
1967HyundaiChung Ju-Yung
1954SsangyongHa Dong-hwan

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