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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

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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

Many more vintage pictures below.

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Australia 1960-1968: Ford unveils Falcon to challenge Holden

1960 Holden and Ford Falcon

After allowing Holden to be the only ‘true’ Australian car for 12 long years, Ford launched the Falcon in November 1960 and proposed an Australian-built alternative to the Holden sold in the country since 1948. The Falcon nameplate will end up being by far Ford’s most popular in Australia.

Unfortunately for Ford, the first generations of Falcon had reliability issues, and as a result, Holden keeps the lead by far in the Australian market with over 10,000 units sold per month throughout the sixties. In 1961, Holden holds 50% of the total market, with Ford #2 at 17% and Volkswagen (thanks to the Beetle) and BMC (thanks to the Mini) both at 8%.

VW Beetle and BMC Mini Cooper

In July 1963, the strongest ever month for the Australia market so far at 29,644 registrations, Holden is still the runaway leader with 46.9% of the market, ahead of Ford at 14.9% (including 10.6% for the Falcon), BMC boosted by the Mini at 12.2%, VW weaker due to the ageing Beetle at 7.1% and Chrysler revitalised by the Valiant at 6.2%.

1961 Chrysler Valiant

1963 Ford Fairlane

1962 Holden 

Holden reacts in 1962 with the EJ then the EH in 1963 which would achieve the highest production rates in Holden’s history: 13,524 per month. Both Holden and Ford Falcon opt for more rectangular fronts in the second half of the decade…

1966 Holden

The Falcon sees its monthly production go from 3,920 for the 1964 XM to 6,223 for the 1969 XW. Holden is still far ahead however, between 11,000 and 12.000 monthly units were produced during that period.

1968 Ford Falcon

This period is also the time Japanese brands landed (successfully) in Australia. See the article about this change here:

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

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

MANY more vintage pictures, sales data and Holden/Falcon production figures below.

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