January 2008: Isuzu Motors America, Inc. President, Terry Maloney announces the discontinuation of passenger vehicle sales in North America as of January 31, 2009.
Despite a dramatic sales decline over the last ten years, the official reason for the decision is the discontinuation of vehicles produced by a partner, General Motors. Isuzu’s product line-up currently consists of a small pickup truck, and the Ascender sports utility vehicle, which is basically a re-badged GMC Envoy.
However, circumstances weren’t always so sad for the company founded in 1914, which would eventually be known as Isuzu Motors, Ltd. Its small trucks sold strongly in post-war Japan. Establishing a capital agreement with G.M. in 1971, Isuzu produced and exported the popular Chevy LUV truck until being replaced by the American-made S-10.
The first Isuzu branded vehicles came to America in 1981. SUVs were becoming popular, and Isuzu introduced the Trooper in 1983. A joint venture with Subaru produced another successful vehicle, the Rodeo in 1987. Isuzu’s North American sales were good for the rest of the millennium, mostly based on the success of its SUVs. In fact, as late as 1994, Isuzu sold more SUVs than industry giant, Toyota.
Everything was going so well for Isuzu. SUVs were hot, and they had one of the most famous pitchmen in advertising history, Joe Isuzu. Played by actor David Leisure, Joe Isuzu was a caricature car salesman. Clad in white shoes and a plaid sports coat, Joe Isuzu made the most ridiculous claims about his products, such as “It has more seats than the Astrodome!”. Joe you see was a pathological liar.
Unfortunately, what Americans really wanted was a smooth ride. Isuzu’s truck-based SUVs were no match for car-based, uni-body products like Toyota’s RAV4 or Honda’s CRV. Isuzu didn’t come up with competitive new products, and sales started a fatal nose-dive in 2001.
Over the years, several automobile manufacturers partnered with Isuzu, which at one time was the world’s leading producer of commercial vehicles. In fact, commercial trucks will still be available in North America, and Isuzu will live on. Isuzu will continue to support dealers committed to providing service, as well as parts sales. The remaining passenger vehicles will probably sell quickly, at greatly reduced prices.