Whatever Happened to Daihatsu?

In the late 1980s, Daihatsu took a stab at importing automobiles to the United States under its own brand name. So, some people might recall seeing the Daihatsu Charade sedan and Rocky SUV in their daily commutes. But, things changed in the 1990s. For some reason, they disappeared. This has left some wondering whatever happened to Daihatsu?

Daihatsu is a lot older than you think

A black and white photo of a small Daihatsu Charade hatchback parked by a curb.
Daihatsu Charade | Denver Post via Getty Images

Daihatsu is a Japanese company that was born back in the 1950s. It was well known for mostly 3-wheeled and Kei car vehicles overseas. However, in the 1980s decided to broaden its horizon by coming to the United States with two small vehicles. So, in 1988 the company introduced the Charade sedan and the Rocky SUV. 

The Daihatsu Charade

The Diahatsu Charade had either a 1-liter, 3-cylinder engine, or a 1.3-liter, 4-cylinder powerplant. With such small engines, it would be easy to assume that the Charade probably achieved good gas mileage, but was also likely underpowered. Both assumptions would be correct. Fuel mileage was estimated in the 40s, but horsepower was only 101 in the GTI trim level. The car was available as a three-door hatchback or a four-door sedan. The saleman in the video below does a walk around of a Charade.

The Daihatsu Rocky

According to Doug DeMuro over at AutoTrader, the Daihatsu Rocky was a small SUV that came to market in the United States to compete against the other two-door SUVs, such as the Suzuki Sidekick, Geo Tracker, and to a lesser extent, the Jeep Wrangler. The Rocky had a 1.6-liter, 4-cylinder engine that could manage 94 horsepower and was only mated to a 5-speed manual transmission. Like the competitors, it was also convertible.

So where did all the Daihatsus go?

Both models, the Charade and the Rocky failed to become hot sellers and increasingly stringent safety regulations were going to require significant investment on the part of the automaker. So, when the world economic market began changing as well, Daihatsu pulled the plug on sales in the United States. In total, the manufacturer sold vehicles for 5 model years, from 1998 up to 1992. 

“Daihatsu, which sells vehicles in more than 130 countries, has been among the nameplates hardest hit by the recession; sales last year of 8,963 vehicles were off 41 percent from 1990. Its least expensive three-cylinder Charade sells for $6,797. Its base Rocky model costs $12,297. 200 U.S. Dealerships” – The New York Times, Feb. 14, 1992

A Rocky recently turned up

Our friends at TFLTruck recently came across a Rocky model and bought it. They did a video review of the vehicle. It was their first impression of the SUV, having only had it for an hour before filming. The video is posted below.

RELATED: Toyota to Buy Daihatsu for $3.2 Billion: What This Means for You

Overall, in the scope of time, Daihatsu was not around in the United States for very long. Although the company is still a prolific manufacturer overseas, there is no guarantee that they will come stateside again as the company is currently owned by Toyota. It is doubtful that Toyota would make space for Daihatsu since doing so would effectively mean that it would compete against itself. So, it is probably safe to say that the lack of sales compounded with an economic recession and the need to invest in stronger safety features were probably the end chapter in the company’s USA story.