One of the most powerful batteries that charges the Japanese economy is its automotive industry. Not only is Japanese car manufacturing an integral cog in its home country, however. It is also one of the most prominent industries on the planet. Though it might not be quite at the height of its 1990s heyday, when Japan overtook the US as the world's largest car manufacturing nations, it remains an extraordinarily large market, now sitting in third position behind China and the States, in those rankings.
Here, we look at three of the main players in this consistently booming industry.
Based in the Hiroshima Prefecture, Mazda has been in business since the 1920s. Though it was originally established to manufacture machine tools, it switched in the early 30s to vehicles. In the 1960s Mazda concentrated its manufacturing efforts on the development of the Wankei rotary engine, as it felt this would mark it out from the rest of the companies in this oversubscribed industry. This, alongside key partnerships with German company NSU and Italian company Fiat and superb automobiles such as the Mazda Cosmo Sport and Mazda RX-7, saw it quickly become one of the world's best known brands.
Today, Mazda remains amongst the elite car manufacturers worldwide and is a giant of Japanese industry, with a net income of 60 billion yen and an operating income of 23.8 billion yen. In fact, it is the 15th biggest automaker in the world. In 2007, it produced about 1.3 million vehicles globally, most of which were made in Japan.
For years, Honda's name has been synonymous worldwide with high quality vehicles, most particularly motorbikes. In fact, since the late 50s, it has been the largest bike manufacturer on the planet. It also tops the charts for the production of internal combustion engines, with 14 million produced every year. The second largest of all Japanese automotive companies, it has its home in Tokyo, where it is chaired by Fumihiko Ike and run by President Takanobu Ito.
Honda's proclivity for coming first can be seen in action throughout its history. For example, it was the first Japanese company to release a dedicated luxury brand, when it put the Acura line into production back in 1986. Since that time, Acura cars have established themselves as being amongst the world's best high performance vehicles. With a net income of 574 billion yen and an operating income of 750 billion yen, Honda is still quite clearly an industry colossus.
The 16th biggest automaker worldwide by production, Mitsubishi has been headquartered in Tokyo since the early 70s. It specialises in both luxury cars and commercial vehicles, and has a 99 billion yen net income and a workforce of 30,777. Its major players are chairman Takashi Nishioka and president Osamu Masuko. Though it suffered somewhat during the last decade thanks to a 22 billion yen operating loss that lead it to end its European production, it remains one of the world's most recognisable brands, due in some small part to its heavy presence in motorsport.