(Copied from this article in my blog: http://galapagosizedautomotive.kinja.com/pickup-trucks-japans-forbidden-fruits-1786652987, with edits.)
(This article is based on my online research in Japan-related websites. Since I can read Japanese, I took lots of time to translate my research on pickup truck market in Japan. The pickup trucks I refer to are the traditional, “bonnet-type” trucks which are popular in USA and Southeast Asia, but extinct in Japan.)
(I have stored so long in Google Docs before ready to publish anywhere.)
If you have been to Japan, there is one thing different from other auto markets, and it is a big news: You can’t see a single pickup truck in an authorized dealerships. And pickup trucks are almostly non-existent on streets of Japan. (Even Europe has a pickup truck in a few dealerships.)
If you wonder, why Japan can’t have the world-acclaimed pickup trucks on market if they can have high-quality sports cars and people movers and technologies?
Does Japan hate pickup trucks? Yes, maybe, but I have to explain the history about Japan’s love affair with pickup trucks.
Post-war, 1950s to 1970s, Japan’s streets has been filled with many types of cars, mostly car-based pickups and small passenger cars. Among the pickups during this period, even high-class cars had pickup-truck variations. Look at Prince Skyway (Skyline for the work horses) and Toyota Crown. On the less-exciting scale, there were Hino Briska and Datsun Trucks, which were made more specifically as work horses.
One of the famous pickup trucks, Toyota Hilux (a successor to Hino Briska), arrived late in late 1960s when pickups were still popular in Japan before station wagons deteriorating them since late 1970s. With improved lifestyles and social developments, pickups were no longer associated with luxury, but the Hilux continued this “luxury pickup” spirit as well. Other than that, Japan Domestic Market had Mazda Proceed and Mitsubishi Forte/Strada.
Starting from the late 1970s, as the developments continued at a faster rate, Japanese people have shifted their choices from pickup trucks to station wagons, with the latter deteriorating the former. With external sizes enlarged, pickups have started losing its appeal with Japanese buyers, combining its exaggerated exterior sizes, crude design and the space impracticality. (Japanese people favors station wagons for shorter overhangs and better cargo protections in extreme weathers.)
This has resulted into taxation penalties for pickup trucks in Japan, which tax break requirements are too narrow for a long vehicle.
Some carmakers even avoided selling the awesome trucks to Japanese market, such as Mazda REPU rotary pickup and Subaru BRAT compact coupe utility. These reasons have led to the decline of pickup trucks in Japan.
The Lost Decade in 1990s has became extremely harsh with the introduction of NOx and PM laws which are tough challenges for the pickups in Japanese Domestic Market. This requires many vehicles for emission inspections. However, one loophole is, only petrol-powered passenger cars can bypass NOx and PM laws for the most part, but this doesn’t apply to even petrol-powered pickup trucks. With toughening emission laws and taxation penalties imposed, Japanese carmakers have subsequently discontinued their pickup trucks from the Japanese market. Isuzu Rodeo, Mazda Proceed and Mitsubishi Strada have been killed off before the Millennium.
The early 2000s have seen the final hurrah for the pickups in Japan. The laws regarding vehicles (including safety laws and emission laws) became harsher and the external dimensions for the pickups have become bigger, which further made such disadvantages even more serious. The Datsun Truck was killed off in 2002 and the final generation Toyota Hilux (sixth generation internationally) rolled out in 2004 when Toyota discontinued it as well. Since then, the traditional pickup trucks have now become extinct in Japan, leaving only cab-over commercial trucks.
Since then, in 2006, Mitsubishi Motors had experimented a limited run of Triton pickup trucks in JDM, 7 years after they discontinued Strada. This lasted only for five years and only a handful were imported and sold.
In 2014, Toyota reintroduced the limited edition Land Cruiser 70 series in JDM for one-year limited sales (as part of the vehicle’s 30-year anniversary), when they’re still making them for exports. The pickup truck market could see a small revival with the double-cab Land Cruiser, the first time in Japan.
But for now, can Japanese carmakers revive pickup truck market in Japan? Maybe no. Japan still has (way too) many non-tariff barriers to keep pickup trucks out from JDM. Differentiating safety and emission regulations and vehicle size taxations that keep pickups out from JDM. And, Japanese people likes hybrids and minivans/wagons, hates pickups. But when a thing Japan likes, combine with what Japan hates, we could see. A hybrid truck is the only way that could revive the pickup truck market that were extinct in Japanese Domestic Market.
(Even some Japanese car geeks are hoping for the revival of pickups in JDM.)