Isuzu RIP – The Obituary of American Isuzu Motors
Newspapers usually have obituaries pre-written for notable people who may be at risk of demise. We have been watching the deterioration of Isuzu in the USA for years and still hesitated to write its obit. Well, here it is.
American Isuzu Motor Company has finally announced that it is pulling out of the light vehicle market in the USA. With sales dwindling to under 10,000 units per year, Isuzu just could not make a go of it even selling only rebadged General Motors SUVs and pickups.
Isuzu Missed the Wave of SUV Popularity
The really odd thing about the Isuzu story is that the brand was almost perfectly positioned in the early ’90s to ride the wave of SUV popularity, but they blew it at every turn. Working with constrained development budgets, Isuzu resorted to frantic new products that never resonated with a market that, frankly, was open to new ideas in SUVs. As Isuzu wallowed, the industry marched past them and Isuzu has faded from the picture.
More below the fold…
Isuzu Abandons Passenger Cars by Early ’90s
The story of Isuzu in the USA is a tragic one. Once a brand with several small cars and sport utility vehicles in its lineup, Isuzu could never find the solution to the equation of the American market. Isuzu started business in 1981 with 1982 model year vehicles… about the same time as Mitsubishi Motors North America. Initially they sold the I-Mark sedan and a pickup. They added the Impulse sporty car in 1983 and the Trooper SUV in 1984. The Trooper was one of the first SUVs to be available with a 4-door bodystyle. By the 1993 model year, Isuzu was out of the passenger car business and relying only on pickups and SUVs.
Amigo – Innovative in its Way: In 1989 1/2 Isuzu launched the Amigo which was a truncated SUV with a soft top over the cargo area. Isuzu offered a special exterior color every six months… school bus yellow, peach, etc. This set the Amigo apart, but new management killed the idea and Amigo marched into oblivion in 1995.
Rodeo: Isuzu introduced the Rodeo mid-size SUV in 1991 and positioned it as the lowest priced 4-door SUV on the market. Sales boomed for several years and Isuzu seemed to on it way to health.
Honda Gets Rodeo/Trooper from Isuzu
In order to better utilize capacity, Isuzu rebadged the Rodeo as the Honda Passport and the Trooper as the Acura SLX during the years before Honda decided to develop SUVs on their own. These Isuzu-made entries were credited with Honda’s inferior quallity results for those years. In trade for the Passport/SLX, Isuzu received the Oasis minivan from Honda. Honda sold the Oasis as the Odyssey. This was the old Odyssey with sedan side doors rather than sliders.
The Last Gasp Hail Marys
Vehicross – the Japanese Aztek: Isuzu let out all the stops at the end of the ’90s to try and resuscitate itself. The first was the ill thought out Vehicross. Launched in 1999, Vehicross lasted for three model years with steadily decreasing sales. The Vehicross can be thought of as the Japanese Aztek of its time. Virtually impossible to get into or out if, Vehicross sacrificed all of its utility for style. You could not get into the rear seat and if you did you couldn’t get out. You could not see out of it. We continued to see a Vehicross for sale near our Detroit office for two years after it was discontinued.
Axiom; The second, more reasonable, attempt was the Axiom. A nicely styled mid-size SUV based on the Rodeo, the Axiom tried too hard to be sporty and aerodynamic. Another vehicle that had poor ingress/egress, Axiom proved that you need to be able to live with a vehicle in order for it to sell.
Isuzu Joins Warranty Wars – Quickly Loses: Then Isuzu joined the warranty wars. In 2000 through 2002, Isuzu had a 10-year/120,000 mile powertrain limited warranty. Biggest claim in the business. In 2003, the warranty was lowered to 7-years/75,000 miles where it remained until today.
GM Rides to the Rescue – Kinda: In 2003, Isuzu added the Ascender SUV to its lineup. This GMT360 (Trailblazer, Envoy, 9-7X) became Isuzu’s only SUV until its demise. The fact that General Motors is soon getting out of the GMT360 business certainly did not help Isuzu’s cause. Similarly, Isuzu picked up a lightly derived Colorado/Canyon from GM and sold it as the Isuzu i-270 and i-350 mid-size pickups. Neither of these strategies worked in the short term or long.