• Column: Halley Prabhakar EP-21

The Japanese quad - but not the way you would imagine!

The year is 1983 and India’s global image is on the rise. Kapil Dev and his boys have just brought home the Cricket World Cup. The road to economic liberalisation is getting started and the government begins to loosen import restrictions. Maruti and Suzuki have signed a deal to manufacture Japanese cars locally and the 800 is born. I’m an 80’s kid so to me, these are memories I look back upon and like reminiscing. As time passed moments faded but very recently I noticed a nostalgic commercial truck and a memory triggered. While we do remember legendary Japanese vehicles like the Suzuki SS80, Gypsy or even the Yamaha RX100 and RD350 from the 80s, there was another set of Japanese automobiles that came in as part of partnerships with Indian manufacturers. Many wouldn't know, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan and Toyota are automotive biggies from Japan that entered India way back in the 80s, even before the passenger car market boomed.

Options in the commercial vehicle market are huge today but back then there were very few players and most products were already outdated. In comparison, these Japanese trucks were far more modern and also were offered in developed markets. Most would refer to the Innova as the most popular Toyota, but truckers will consider it to be the DCM Toyota Dyna. Before DCM and Daewoo came together to launch cars in India, the former brought the Toyota Dyna LCV here in 1985. The merger ended in the 90s and spotting a Dyna is a rare sight today. Nissan launched its Cabstar internationally in the 80s and it was the next to make it to India as part of a merger with the Andhra Pradesh Government (Allwyn Hyderabad Limited also known for the Allwyn Pushpak scooter). The Allwyn Nissan Cabstar was more compact but capable and was also sold as a minibus. The company was eventually bought over by Mahindra and a cab design based on the Cabstar is in production today as the Mahindra Jayo and Loadking.

Mazda, with a collaboration with Isuzu, tied up with Punjab Tractors to launch the Swaraj Mazda LCV and van (was also my school bus!). This platform exists even today under the SML Isuzu range of buses and is probably the highest selling of the four Japanese LCVs. Eicher meanwhile partnered with Mitsubishi and offered the legendary Canter which was very popular and even went on to win the 1987 Great Himalayan Desert Rally in the hands of Tutu Dhawan. An Eicher based on the Canter is offered even today. All these trucks were hitech back then and some even exist today, after almost four decades, proving the reliability of these Indo-Japanese machines. These trucks however were expensive to produce and the arrival of a new truck from 'Telco' only made it a harder sell. That's a story for another day though!

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