Daihatsu is among the oldest Japanese automotive manufacturers in the world. The Daihatsu range is also known as “Kei Cars” by locals in Japan, owing to the company’s long history in the field of internal combustion engine manufacture. The company is currently a subsidiary of Toyota and is a big part of the production power behind many of Toyota’s most iconic marques, with many Daihatsu cars being supplied OEM as Toyota-made models.
More than a century of history
The predecessor company to Daihatsu was Hatsudoki Seizo, which was formed in 1907. Its founding was steeped in Japan’s domestic need for high-quality petrol and diesel engines for power plants and steam locomotives. After major restructuring, Daihatsu was formed in March 1951.
1960s – Entering Europe
The early years of export to Europe were not successful for the company. The most iconic export was, of course, the Daihatsu Compagno Berlina, which started sales in the UK back in 1965. Owing to the lack of warmth for Japanese-made goods in the market at that time, the car was a commercial flop. Retrospectively, however, engineers and experts have remarked that this failure was as much our loss as drivers as it was financially to Daihatsu.
The Compagno was the car that many experts claim introduced Britain to genuine automotive quality. While British drivers were thrashing their Austin Maxis with branches to get them started through the 1960s and 1970s, the few who bought the Daihatsu Compagno enjoyed relative quality and reliability. Only too late would many drivers realize that companies like Daihatsu were offering something we both wanted and needed.
1980s to Mid-2000s – Years of change
While sales overseas had been disappointing in the first two decades of export, the company was undeterred, rolling off its three millionth Kei Car back in 1980. The company opened offices in Brussels in 1979 with the aim of expanding markets in the region, and while they enjoyed some success, the years were not kind to the company and by the late 1990s, their market share was shrinking. Toyota gained a controlling interest in 1998, and by the mid-2000s it seemed the Daihatsu export story was in full “winding-up” mode. But old fans and new converts to the brand needn’t fear anything, since the JDM market for Daihatsu cars is very much alive and well.
When you don’t want the export brand, you go for the domestic, and Daihatsu is full of domestic treasures.
Daihatsu – MPV Heaven
Buyers looking for compact, high-quality MPVs tend to look within the Daihatsu JDM marketplace. In that market you find such gems as the Daihatsu Atrai, which was conceived as the people-carrier version of the Hijet microvan or “Kei Truck.” For many new buyers, they had no idea that “compact” could mean so much for an MPV, and then they see vans like the Atrai. The signature flattened front end helps to make the car ideal for those places where space is tight, but all without over-compromising on interior space. The 1.3L Daihatsu Atrai 7, for instance, was a seven-seater despite its fantastic compact look that made it perfect for the urbanite family in need of transport that could park in more places and drive more comfortably in the busy streets of UK towns and cities. You may have also seen this van marked up as the Toyota Sparky.
Stirring the soul; inspiring creativity
The fascinating power of JDM Daihatsu models is a continuing topic for discussion among enthusiasts. On the outside, they can come across as functional and designed entirely with efficiency and “getting the job done” in mind. On the other hand, you often see vans like the 1987 Daihatsu Mira converted into a quirky food truck, or an Atrai painted up and with enough dynamic add-ons to make it look like a racing car. It seems there is something inspiring about the Daihatsu; it pushes JDM enthusiasts to think creatively.
The straight edges, near-perpendicular lines, affordable prices and smaller frame is perhaps what adds this veil of creativity. The Daihatsu MPV, van, truck or SUV can come across like a blank canvas, just awaiting your personalisation.
Everything to love about Daihatsu
Besides the “blank canvas” appeal to some enthusiasts, what is it about the Daihatsu marque that is so appealing to the mass of drivers around the world who have come to adore the brand? Below we’ll try to answer that question:
First and foremost, people are drawn to the affordable sticker prices. Whether they were brand new in the showroom, or being imported now as JDM imports, Daihatsu has long stood for affordability. Better yet, that term “affordability” hasn’t been used as a euphemism for poor quality.
Daihatsu models from as late as 2012 can be sourced FOB for prices in the hundreds of pounds, making them still a hot-ticket item for many enthusiasts. When you’re looking to test the JDM waters and experience some of the best that the Japanese domestic market has to offer, then Daihatsu is a great place to start.
2. Cheap running costs
Daihatsu cars are built on the company’s heritage of quality engine manufacture. Even the lower cost models are supported by this history of expertise and know-how. Even the MPVs can reach efficiencies of 40-50mpg, depending on specification and how you drive, of course. When cars are built with efficiency in mind, the first big benefit you get when running it is financial savings.
3. Simple, clean, quality interiors
When you’re looking for high-quality “no-frills” JDM cars, they don’t come much better than Daihatsu models. Japanese automakers never traditionally considered interior refinement to be a priority, but at Daihatsu they understood that having a pleasing aesthetic does add value to the vehicle overall. It’s not luxury, but it’s simple, elegant and clean. In this way, the Daihatsu continues to have wide appeal, as the interior is inoffensive, customisable and easy to just get into and drive.
4. Compact Frame
JDM imports were always destined to be a positive thing in the UK. Not only are the cars built “UK-ready” with the wheel on the correct side and everything, but they are also created by a country with similar driving conditions to Britain’s. Neither the UK or Japan is blessed with American- or Chinese-style mega-highways. Roads are more compact, and even more so in built-up areas. With both countries having such relatively large populations compared to their size, as well as high costs of living, the perfect high-quality and affordable compact family car is like the holy grail.
Daihatsu – The Gateway to JDM
For those interested in getting their foot on the ladder in the exciting space of Japanese domestic market imports, then Daihatsu is a great starter brand. Enhance your family or professional life with one of these efficient and dependable machines. These cars are Japanese engineering at some of their best.
Daihatsu Car Models
- Hijet Caddie
- Mira Tocot
Take time to explore our own range of Daihatsu import cars and find a great-value family car that will help you live the strong and innovative message of this great Japanese brand.