Since the Tokyo Auto Show and some Scion scuttlebutt have us on something of a Daihatsu theme here, I thought I’d show a bit of what the small car specialists are up to these days. The truth: despite the brand’s futuristic showcar image projections, Daihatsu mostly plays in the rough-and-tumble entry-level segments of emerging markets, where the cars are small and the margins can be even smaller.
And it’s had better luck there than in the so-called “mature markets.” Though the third generation Charade flopped on the American market amid much popular ridicule of its name (and, according to gearhead lore, oversight of other favorable qualities), the previous generation became the FAW-Tianjin “Xiali,” one of China’s most ubiquitous cars. Now Daihatsu is ditching Europe and hustling strangely cool little mini-MPVs built in Indonesia with the taglines “it’s very cheap” and “we build them compact.” Who needs developed markets?
Of course you can’t mention Daihatsu without referencing the fact that it is majority owned by Toyota, and the two firms work hand-in-hand. For example, the MPV advertised at the top of the post is sold as both a Daihatsu Xenia and a Toyota Avanza. Interestingly, the outgoing Toyota Yaris was put on sale in Europe as the Daihatsu Charade just this year… apparently the brand’s last “new” model before disappearing from its toehold in Europe.
Speaking of obligatory references, here’s Top Gear’s love song to Daihatsu’s Terios.
Though the Asian national disasters have not left it untouched, Daihatsu is one of the few Japanese makers to actually raise its profit outlook (pending damage reports from the Thai floods). And though its export models like the Terios are being hit by the Yen increases just like everyone else, joint ventures in China, Indonesia and elsewhere keep Daihatsu diversified. Besides, not being dependent on the American and European middle classes for sales is a good way to be weathering a “mature market” downturn (especially in contrast to its city-cousin, Scion). And that is reason enough to keep the funky, futuristic concept cars coming..