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Australia 1958-1968: Toyota and Japan’s first export market

Assembly of the Toyota Corona in Australia started in January 1966

* Click on the title for many more vintage pictures! *

When Japanese car manufacturers were ready to explore the world, their first choice for export destination wasn't in Asia. It was Australia. As early as August 1958, the first Japanese light car to reach Australian shores since World War 2 was a Datsun. By 1968, a dozen Japanese brands were established in the country.

Some of Wheels covers featuring Japanese models 1958-1968 (click on image to enlarge)

Between June 1965 and August 1967, the cover of Wheels magazine would feature a Japanese model no less than 9 times! The first model to have that honour was the Daihatsu Berlina in June '65, followed by the Hino Contessa, Toyota 2000GT, Toyota Corona, Datsun Cedric, Mazda 1000, Mazda 1500, Toyota Corolla, Datsun 1600 SSS and the tiny Honda Scamp in July 1968.

1958 Datsun, the first Japanese car to land in Australia after World War 2

Japanese manufacturers used Australia as a trial export market before spreading to the US and Europe, and it worked very well for them. In those ten years they managed a perfect landing in Australia, a very significant event in a market that was then dominated by US and English brands. It was the start of a complete reshuffle of the Australian car landscape that would result, 50 years later, in Toyota leading the way by far among many other very successful brands.

1967 Toyota Corolla 

Very quickly after exporting their first models to Australia, some Japanese manufacturers switched to local assembly. Toyota was the first one, with the Corona being assembled in Melbourne as early as January 1966, followed by the Crown that same year and the Corolla in 1968, only one year after its Japanese launch. This makes Australia the first overseas country to ever assemble the Corolla!  

1961 Datsun Cedric

The other manufacturer to opt for local assembly very fast is Datsun with the 1600 in 1967 and the 1000 in 1968. If the very first 'Toyopet", Datsun and Daihatsus didn't impress with their quality, by the mid-sixties most Japanese cars were rather well rated by the press, with the bigger models like the Toyota Crown accepted as true threats for the class-leading Holdens and Ford Falcons...

1966 Isuzu Bellett

To understand the importance of Australia in Japan and Toyota's export strategy, a few figures are telling: in 1965, Toyota sold 17,300 vehicles in Australia, up 52% on 1964 and by far its strongest export market. This is to be compared with 8,900 units in the USA (+141%), 6,600 in South Africa (+16%), 3,700 in Thailand (+140%) and 3,000 in Canada where it was Toyota's first year. In Europe, Denmark, Finland (2,800 each) and the Netherlands (1,500) are Toyota's strongest markets in 1965.

1965 Hino Contessa

Most Japanese manufacturers were busy creating vehicles in all categories at that time and it's interesting to notice Isuzu doing very well in the passenger car segment (one that it has all but abandoned these days) with the Bellett and Florian. Similarly, Hino, now a heavy truck specialist, had the Contessa, loosely based on the Renault 8.

See the general article about Australia 1960-1968 here

Previous post: Australia 1949-1959: Holden ‘Australia’s own’ launches

Next post: Australia 1969-1976: Ford catches up on Holden, a Datsun on the podium

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Categories: Australia
  1. Pete
    March 21st, 2012 at 10:21 | #1

    What a great article! A very interesting read :)

    • matgasnier
      March 21st, 2012 at 10:56 | #2

      Glad you enjoyed it Pete :)
      cheers
      Matt

  2. March 18th, 2012 at 10:57 | #3

    Good times!! I remember that my sister had a 1965 British racing green Mini Cooper S, then an MGB, a Honda S350, a Renault R10 and when she moved to South Africa an Alfasud and Datsun 280C Cedric. My cousins have a large Toyota Crown, my uncle a Vauxhall Victor and a Ford Cortina MKII. My aunt a Fiat 124 and a Datsun 1600 SSS and my beloved father had a Buick roadmaster, a mercedes 180, mercedes 190 deluxe and a Ford Corsair.

  3. March 18th, 2012 at 10:48 | #4

    Great pictures, fine souvenirs, I remember all these cars when I was a child and lived in Mozambique and South Africa in the seventies!

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