When you hear JDM – it means only the cars Japan makes for Japan, which can be imported into the US after a 25-year cooling period, and at a steep cost. That said; there are now very few cars that Japan does not introduce into the US at a later stage. Technically, with the world getting smaller by the day, these can be considered JDM cars too.
The Japanese Domestic Market does produce superb cars that sometimes are banned in other parts of the world simply because they are street illegal everywhere else. But sometimes, it's difficult to put a finger on the pulse of the auto bazaar of the world; and so these are 10 JDM cars that fell short of the mark.
10 2012-2015 Scion iQ: Too Ugly & Small
In 2008, the iQ (marketed as the Toyota iQ in Japan) was named the Japanese Car of the Year. America somehow did not get this message because for all the three years it was available in the States for sale, it was reviled. A rebadged variant of this for the European market was the Aston Martin Cygnet – needless to say, both the iQ and the Cygnet failed to impress or attract buyers.
Too small, too cramped, too ugly, and just too meh for the average American car buyer – this was one JDM that should never have breached domestic shores. Scion is a marque of Toyota only, and its tagline reads “weird, right?” – we have to agree on that.
9 1994-2001 Geo Metro: The 50 Horses Car
Originally a Suzuki Cultus that has been in Japan since 1983 and is still in production; GM tied up with Suzuki for this peculiar import. In the States, it became the Geo Metro, the Chevrolet Sprint, the Pontiac Firefly, and - sadly for Australia - the Holden Barina.
The pipsqueak of an engine squeaked out 50 horses and the interior tended to rattle and groan at any speed above an amble. Not that "fast" was a speed it could understand. Furthermore, the ragtop version of the Geo Metro was so unsafe, along with seriously uncool. The Geo Metro did give a good economy and was one of the greenest cars of its time, in case you still have a soft spot for it.
8 1999-2006 Honda Insight: Not Very Insightful
There’s a 2020 Honda Insight around the corner which may be able to do what the first generation could not do – establish itself as a successful hybrid car. Despite being America’s first-ever hybrid car, the Insight never really picked up. Was it the strange liftback design, or the garish interiors?
The power was too low at just 96 horses, and the handling was no better. It was enough to make the Insight, which arrived before the Toyota Prius, a complete dud. In its seven years in the American market, Honda aimed to sell 6,500 of these per year – instead of the global sales of these seven years were just a measly 17,000.
7 1991-1999 Subaru SVX: Window-Within-Window?
The Subaru SVX premiered in its home country, Japan, as the Subaru Alcyone SVX, with Alcyone being the brightest star in the Pleiades constellation. Despite the lofty name, the car was hardly bright or shining. Available in the American market as simply the Subaru SVX, it failed to take off on multiple counts.
Firstly, it looked more Italian than Japanese because it was designed by an Italian. Then the very aircraft-like window-within-a-window concept looked downright weird, though the 231-horsepower engine did compensate for that. However, the four-speed automatic transmission proved nearly useless. Some 14,000 models sold in the US before the car left domestic shores for good.
6 1995-1997 Suzuki X-90: The Confused Car
This is perhaps the reason Suzuki upped and left America shores for good. We aren’t sure what the concept of this car was and neither was Suzuki. It was too small to be an SUV, too strange to be a sedan and too weak to be a sports car. Plus it could not be called a pickup even though it resembled a miniature one.
The strange design coupled with the 95-horsepower low-on-power engine turned the X-90 into a total dud, as did its tendency to flip over and die when pushed too hard. Even dropping the pricing by 25% in 1997 did not rev up the sales and the X-90 ignominiously limped to extinction. Being part of the Red Bull marketing campaign did not make it any more successful.
5 1976 Honda Accord: The Japanese Rust Bucket
Now, wait – before you go on about how the Accord is one of the best-selling Japanse cars in the US market, remember that it sold well only post-1989. The 1976 introduction to the Honda Accord was like a rude shock. It wasn’t just American cars struck down by the post-oil-crisis malaise era, seemingly Japan also had a problem with their cars.
The 1976 Honda Accord was a genuine rust bucket that managed to rust its way from Japan to America, and its three-speed gears meant two forward and one reverse. All it gave was 68 measly and rather elderly horses that barely took you anywhere.
4 1974-1978 Datsun F-10: The Car That Killed Datsun
Initially known as the Nissan Cherry in Japan, this was the second generation of the car also dubbed the F-II in its home country. Once launched in America, it came to be infamously known as the Datsun F-10 and was unpopular not just for its rather ugly looks, since if the power mill or the transmission been something to talk about, the car may have done well.
Despite it being the first front-wheel-drive in America, the sales just never went anywhere. Looking squished at almost every angle did not help either. Things were so bad in domestic markets that the Datsun marque itself was retired in favor of Nissan.
3 1990-1998 Eagle Talon: The Chrysler-Mitsubishi Fail
Eagle finally came to be owned by Chrysler when the latter took over AMC, with the Eagle representing a marque partnership between AMC and Mitsubishi, so owned under Diamond Star Motors.
In Japan, this was the Mitsubishi Eclipse and did okay for its four generations, though the same cannot be said for the Eagle Talon. As this was during the '90s, a decade Chrysler was floundering, most of the blame can be put on Chrysler's shoulders. That said, everything that could have gone wrong with the Talon did go wrong and at an alarming frequency.
2 1985-1995 Suzuki Samurai: Toppled Giant
Why they named this one a Samurai, we’ll never know. It did look kind of chunky, so maybe that was the reasoning? Anyway, likening this little failure of a car to the warriors of the brave past was too ironic for words. Initially, though, it took America by storm and became the best-selling Japanese vehicle ever.
Slowly though, people began to realize that the Samurai tended to topple over. It didn’t take a big whooping gust of wind or a crazy misguided turn for it to do its beached-whale impression, either. A gentle breeze or steering turned a little too enthusiastically could flip it over. By 1996 it slunk away, with enough consumer cases against it.
1 2002-2009 Nissan 350Z: Awesome But Deadly
Call us crazy but a car that caused some 148 deaths between 2005 and 2008 because of safety issues has made it to the very top of the list. The 350Z, known in Japan as the Fairlady 350Z, is a lovely car, the kind that can make grown men cry. Sadly though, it has been named the deadliest car in the United States by the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) and this could partly be because of the fantastic speeds it can reach.
In 2008, there were recalls of the Nissan 350Z because of airbag software issues which put the driver at an even greater risk. While it may be a great car and an awesome have for any JDM fan, cruising in the Nissan 350Z can be deadly.