Japan
Automobile
Manufacturers
Association, Inc.

Issue No. 4, 2006

Time Machines

by Peter Nunn

There are not many cars around today that have been in production for 40 years and are still topping the sales charts. The Toyota Corolla which celebrates its 40th birthday in October 2006, however, is one such model.

The Corolla, evolving through nine different generations over those four decades, is an family car legend whose total production is close now to a staggering 32 million units.

Another celebrated Japanese nameplate, the Nissan Skyline, can trace its lineage even further, right back to 1957. That’s nearly 50 years and 11 generations but right on cue, the Skyline will evolve yet again this winter when it shifts up to its next generation, as indeed will the Corolla.

These are outstanding production landmarks, without doubt, so it seems only right that Japan’s car makers now seem to be placing more emphasis on the history and pedigree of some of their more famous models.

Flick through the latest Honda Civic catalogue, for instance, and there you will find a neat potted history of Honda’s ultra successful family car. Born in 1972, the Civic has now progressed through eight generations, selling more than 16 million units.

When presenting the new Roadster/MX-5 to the press recently, Mazda also had the first two generations out on display to underline just how the world’s best selling sports car had evolved.

Mitsubishi, in turn, can point to the long history of the Lancer, unveiled in 1973, now on its seventh generation and with number eight expected next year.

Starting in 1979, Suzuki has now done six generations of its evergreen Alto minicar. Daihatsu has replied with seven generations of the Alto’s great rival, the Mira/Cuore since 1976. Subaru is on its fourth Legacy series since 1989. 

Back with the Corolla, Toyota has been holding a special generation fair in Tokyo this summer to mark the Corolla’s exceptional career, and this has been much written up in the media. Nissan, in turn, hauled out examples of all the Skyline generations to date from its outstanding historic car collection at its Zama factory, to present to the press.

What seems interesting is that these kind of big heritage events have never really happened before. They’re happening now, in part, because nostalgia is fun and makes for good press copy.

At the same time, when competition in the industry is maybe fiercer than ever, there’s absolutely nothing wrong in celebrating your past as a way of building up your image and brand.  So we can surely expect more of these retrospectives as the Corolla, Skyline and others work towards their centenaries.