When America paid $98.66 million to Toyota
The Toyota Land Cruiser and Nissan Patrol are, in fact, results of the Korean War (1950-1953).
We recognize Japan as a hub of revolutionary car designs. The world praises their compact cars, sports cars, race cars, and SUVs. But some things tend to stray away from their original purpose. This is the case with, as we know it today, the Toyota Land Cruiser. In fact, the same applies for the Nissan Patrol as both were originally meant to serve the Capitalist forces during the Korean War. Here is the story in detail!
Willys Jeeps and the American Occupation of Japan
1950 Willy-Overland M38 Jeep
Standing against the Allies came with its own heavy cost. After having two nuclear bombs dropped on its land, Japan had no choice but to surrender. USA, seeking an opportunity to check the possible communist uprising, occupied Japan instantly. Willys-Overland Jeeps came alongside the American forces. Soon, American officers could be seen proudly zooming around cities and villages in their compact and agile Jeeps. The demilitarized Japan could only look up to America’s superior technology, as their indigenous WW2 vehicles were incapable and unreliable. Close to 50,000 trucks were produced each year during the start of the World War 2. However, that number declined to only around 1,000 by the end of it because the government diverted most resources towards ships and planes. This partially factored to the chaos and disorder that Japan was in 1945. Owing to the pathetic quality, only 47,000 of them remained serviceable post the war. Such was the technological gap between Japan and America.
1947 Toyota Model SA
America had placed severe restrictions on Japan — forbidding them from maintaining a military; limiting the national monthly manufacture of trucks to 1,500; banning the production of passenger cars; zaibatsus (large Japanese conglomerates like Mitsubishi) being fragmented. The Japanese Yen soon inflated to 350%. Toyota and Nissan managed to survive only out of government loans as their technology was limited to 1930s truck models. Despite retaining pre-war contracts of British cars, they didn’t make any owing to the limited resources better spent on commercial vehicles. Until the ban on passenger cars was lifted in 1947, Toyota would repair vehicles as a side business. However, this was the year Toyota would introduce the Toyopet Model SA. The 225 examples generated 27 bhp from their 1.0 I4. It was unprofitable but also the first significant step towards Toyota’s excellence at passenger cars and taxis. America now allowed Japan to produce 300 cars annually, restricting their displacements to 1,500 cc. By 1949, hyperinflation and disastrous economy plagued the Japanese companies that questioned the automotive industry’s viability itself. Unable to pay employees, most of these businesses ventured into unrelated fields. Alas, Toyoda Kiichiro resigned as Toyota’s President while the Japanese began to believe they should rely on imports for passenger cars. Spoiler alert: they didn’t.
The Korean War — ‘a Gift from the Gods’
1950 Toyota Model BM
Calling a war a gift sure is controversial and offensive but Japan’s 45th Prime Minister, Shigeru Yoshida didn’t shy away from doing so. When the Communist North Korea invaded past the 38th parallel, into the Capitalist South Korea; it acted as an extension to the violent WW2. Often regarded as the ‘forgotten war’, this was one unforgettable opportunity to the Japanese businesses. 11,157 km away from Seoul, Washington DC sought convenient logistics. It was a waste of resources, time, and effort to transport military equipment and supplies to the Korean peninsula from mainland America. To avoid this nightmare, America initiated military productions in Japan, the immediate neighbour of the warzone. Furthermore, this would prove an opportunity to industrialize and capitalise this nation full of dissatisfied workers who were eventually turning towards communism. Toyota was granted a contract of 4,679 Model BM trucks between 1950 and 1953, with each costing around ¥782,218 ($2173) in 1953. The total transaction was valued at ¥3.66 billion ($10.17 million). Adjusting that for inflation, we have a revenue of $98.66 million in favour of Toyota. Contexualising, Toyota was able to achieve this huge target despite its employees’ strikes and overall financial instability. During the three years of the war, they had employees overtime for two hours and they postponed their shift of production to the new MX trucks. Their decision to fade out poor equipment since 1948 also helped them progress towards increasing their efficiency.
1954 Mitsubishi Jeep J3 (civilian version)
To ensure Japan’s internal security while American troops fled to Korea, America founded a ‘National Police Reserve’ of 75,000 men, supplied by US surplus. However, when they planned to increase the paramilitary’s strength to 360,000, indigenous assistance received utmost importance. The NPR required a 4x4 utility vehicle in large amounts. Mitsubishi, Nissan, and Toyota applied but Mitsubishi’s Jeep was selected as it was derived off the Willys CJ. Since the forces had prior experience with Willys and undermined Toyota’s reliability (lol), Mitsubishi continued to supply the Jeeps even to NPR’s successors – the National Safety Force and the Ground Self Defence Force.
1951 Nissan Patrol 4W60
Although disheartened, both Toyota and Nissan now had excellent off-road vehicles. In fact, Japan’s rural police opted the BJ as their patrol car (lol) after rigorous testing, where it performed brilliantly. Furthermore, the BJ outperformed any other utility vehicle of its era when it successfully climbed Japan's 6 highest mountain peak, over 2,000 feet above the sea level. Toyota began exporting these new ‘Jeeps’ to Southeast Asia but named them ‘Land Cruiser’ instead. The British Land Rover connection was intentional! This rugged little 4x4 created a storm of sales because of its simplicity and utility. Even the Nissan Patrol soon earned popularity in Southeast Asia and gradually in Oceania, Europe and the Americas.
Thank you for reading and I would appreciate your feedback. :D
I credit Prof Thomas French’s article on the Japanese automotive industry as a major source of my information.
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