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30 Japanese Cars Auto Companies Messed Up Big Time

Cameron EittreimOctober 15, 2021

Japanese automakers completely revamped the way Americans buy a new car. The gas-efficient, reliable, and smaller Japanese cars made their way to the U.S. in the 1960s and ’70s. Offering alternatives to the gas-guzzling dinosaurs sold in America, Toyota and Honda built a reputation for reliability and quality. But even with an emphasis on quality, there have still been many mishaps over time.

When drivers think of cars that Japanese automakers messed up, the Toyota Echo comes to mind, as does the Honda Insight. There was also the Toyota T100, which was an awful excuse for a pickup truck. It’s was surprising that such revered automakers managed to foul up. We looked back at 30 Japanese cars that automakers messed up worse than drivers could imagine.

Photo Credit: Toyota

30: Toyota T100

By the 1990s, the pickup truck became a normal mode of transportation. Toyota needed to get on the bandwagon with this and introduced the T100. The main problem was that the T100 wasn’t a compact truck or full-size. Instead, it was an in-between-sized model only offered with a V6 powerplant for an engine choice (via Motor Biscuit).

Photo Credit: Toyota

Pickup truck buyers were more interested in domestic offerings than the T100, whereas the Toyota Hilux and Tacoma were both sales successes. Toyota would later rectify the mistakes of the T100 with the Tundra, which boasted the IForce V8 engine. The T100 is undoubtedly one of the least popular Toyota models ever made.

Photo Credit: Toyota

29: Toyota Paseo

Similar to Honda, Toyota also experimented with a two-door coupe in the 1990s. The Paseo was basically a two-door Toyota Tercel. The Paseo was lethargic in terms of performance, but that wasn’t the demographic Toyota was targeting. The Toyota Paseo was meant to appeal to young car shoppers who wanted something sporty and cheap (via Motor Trend).

Photo Credit: Toyota

The gas mileage of the Paseo was among the best in the segment. There was a refresh toward the end of the Paseo’s life, which gave it a smoothed-out style. There was also a special Paseo Convertible released from 1996-97. But either way, the Paseo was a failure for Toyota, and one of the least-liked Toyotas on the road.

Photo Credit: Autoblog

28: Toyota Echo

The egg-shaped Toyota is perhaps one of the weirdest enigmas in the automotive industry. What exactly Toyota was planning with the Echo is beyond us. The design was downright ugly and its performance was nonexistent. The Echo was a car designed for compact car shoppers on a budget (via Auto Trader).

Photo Credit: Car Domain

After the Toyota Paseo was discontinued, the company moved in another direction. The Echo fell under the Toyota Prius in the lineup, although the two were nearly identical at first. Sales of the Echo were lackluster at best, a surprise for a Toyota model. Even a refresh in 2005 wasn’t enough to save the Echo from an unfortunate demise.

Photo Credit: Carscoops

27: Toyota Previa

Toyota struggled to find a footing in the minivan market at first. By the 1990s, the company was ready to try something new and the Previa was released. The problem with the Previa was the underlying problem with many vans from this era. The engine had to be mounted under the front of the dashboard, and this created a headache in terms of maintenance (via AutoBlog).

Photo Credit: Toyota

The performance of the Previa was lethargic at best and the van had weird styling. A refresh toward the end of the 1990s didn’t boost sales. The style of the van just didn’t resonate with car shoppers at all. Toyota had a few near misses in this decade, and the Previa was one that went down as a failure.

Photo Credit: Toyota

26: Toyota Prius (First Generation)

When the first couple of hybrid vehicles came to US soil, they were ugly and not practical at all. The Prius is one such vehicle that fit into this equation. While the Prius came into its own during the economic recession of 2008, the first generation was not as fortunate. The car itself was strikingly similar to the Toyota Echo in terms of size and performance (via Hagerty).

Photo Credit: Carmax

The first-generation Prius was a groundbreaking car for the environment and Toyota. But the styling and lack of refinement turned many potential buyers off. The car didn’t stack up to the Prius models we got later down the road. Modern-day hybrids have come a long way in terms of design and refinement.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

25: Toyota Solara (First Generation)

Toyota always sold a two-door version of the Camry. But when the car was redesigned for 1997, the coupe was axed altogether. Consumer demand was the driving factor in Toyota releasing the Solara Coupe. A sportier version of the Toyota Camry, the Solara was meant to appear a bit more upscale (via Spanner Head).

Photo Credit: Car Domain

The first generation of the Solara was lacking in many areas. The design was unimaginative and there was not enough distinction between it and the Camry. Car shoppers didn’t connect with the first generation of the Solara. The sales numbers of abysmal at best and Toyota had to switch things around.

Photo Credit: Toyota

24: Toyota Celica (Final Generation)

The final generation of the Toyota Celica released for the 2000 model year was a last-ditch effort to save the brand. Car shoppers simply weren’t looking for sports cars anymore, and Toyota needed a way to entice them. The Celica was sort of a disappointment for true enthusiasts of the brand. The convertible model was axed and there was no turbo model either (via Motor Trend).

Photo Credit: Toyota

Its performance was naturally aspirated, and the car was more for appearances than anything. Everyone didn’t well receive the sharp design. Instead, the sales ended up falling short of Toyota’s expectations and the car was dropped by 2006. The Celica had been an important brand for Toyota, but the final hurrah for the model was a letdown.

Photo Credit: JDM

23: Honda Del Sol

The Honda Civic is one of the best-selling cars of all time. The Civic Del Sol, on the other hand, was a bit of an experiment for Honda. The Del Sol wasn’t a performance car and it wasn’t a sports car. Instead, it was sort of a Civic designed to be exciting. With a removable targa top, the Del Sol was definitely a different type of ride (via Motor Trend).

Photo Credit: Car Domain

But the lack of performance modifications made the Del Sol a lackluster option. Its two-seat design meant there was no usable backseat. The Del Sol had admirable intentions, but the finished product was far from perfect. Nowadays, the Del Sol has become a popular tuner car on the used car market.

Photo Credit: Honda

22: 2005 Honda Accord Hybrid

As you can probably tell, everyone was trying to jump onto the hybrid bandwagon in the mid-2000s. The 2005 Honda Accord Hybrid is evidence of that. Why Honda would need to slap a hybrid powertrain on the already exceptional Honda is a mystery. The untested technology ended up being flawed for the brand (via Motor Trend).

Photo Credit: Honda

With repair costs for the 2005 Accord Hybrid costing upwards of $2000, yhe transmission was notoriously disastrous, not to mention the battery replacement cost. The 2005 Accord Hybrid might just go down in history as a quintessential failure. You’ll seldom find one of these things on the road anymore.

Photo Credit: Honda Motor Corp

21: 1996 Acura SLX

The Isuzu-Honda partnership of the 1990s was one of the weirdest in the automotive world. Honda risked its own reputation by selling a rebadged Isuzu Trooper as the Acura SLX. Sales were inadequate, as the SLX was nothing more than an Isuzu with an Acura decal on the front. Honda needed a luxury SUV but this wasn’t the right method to get one (via Every Auto).

Photo Credit: Honda Motor Corp

The SLX tarnished what was a stellar reputation coming out of Honda. The lack of refinement and reliability caused many car buyers to turn the other way. The SLX was an excellent SUV in many other areas, but the main reliability wasn’t one of them. We’re not sure what Honda was pondering with the SLX, but it wasn’t smart.

Photo Credit: Car Gurus

20: Honda Passport

Again, here comes Honda with the rebadging. The Honda Passport was originally nothing more than an Isuzu Rodeo. Considering Honda has built a reputation around reliability, it was odd to observe the automaker do this. There was nothing remotely appealing about the Passport to separate it from the Isuzu sibling (via Motor Trend).

Photo Credit: Car Gurus

In fact, the Passport had to be recalled due to frame rust, and it cost Honda millions to do the repairs. The debacle caused Honda to shelf the Passport nameplate for two decades before it was revived much later on. Just goes to show you that even the best Japanese automakers in the world can make a mistake.

Photo Credit: Honda

19: 2002 Civic Si

The Honda Civic SI is a brand synonymous with performance. The original model was immensely popular and has remained so ever since 1999. But then you had an odd-ball car released in 2002. The 2002 Civic Si was only available in a hatchback configuration, and the styling was different than the rest of the Civic line (via Motor Trend).

Photo Credit: Honda

We’re not sure why Honda decided to limit the Civic’s product appeal with this version. The hatchback wasn’t practical for many car buyers. The performance was what you’d expect from the SI, but it wasn’t anything extraordinary. From a design standpoint, the car could have been better.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

18: 1997 Acura CL 2.2

What happens when you call an Accord a luxury car? You get the Acura CL 2.2. The CL was a brave attempt at Honda to build a luxury sport coupe. The finished product, however, was not much different than a two-door Honda Accord. This attempt didn’t fool buyers to rebadge the Accord, and the CL was never a sales success (via The Drive).

Photo Credit: Car Domain

The performance of the CL was not overwhelming, but it wasn’t boring either. On the plus side of things, you got the stellar Honda reliability to fall back on. But at the end of the day, luxury shoppers are picky, and the CL simply didn’t cut the mustard. There were many better options when it came to a luxury coupe.

Photo Credit: Daily Turismo

17: Honda Prelude Si 4WS

The Prelude has had many different incarnations, but the 4WS was the most unique. No, we’re not talking about AWD, we’re talking about a four-wheel steering system. Similar to what we saw on the Silverado Quadrasteer of 2003, the Prelude had its own unique four-wheel steering. The four-wheel-steering gave the Prelude Si 4WS a weird driving dynamic that was different than drivers expected (via Jalopnik).

Photo Credit: Car Domain

For many drivers, the Prelude Si 4WS was a terrible car to drive. Grasping control of the four-wheel-drive system was no easy task. With all four wheels moving in the same direction, it can create a unique driving dynamic. To this day, the Prelude Si 4WS is one of the strangest Hondas on the road.

Acura Vigor
Photo Credit: Carscoops

16: Acura Vigor

The original Acura lineup was a departure from other Japanese luxury car makers like Lexus. Take the Acura Vigor, the full-size sedan offered by Acura. Instead of utilizing a V8 engine, like the competition, Acura decided to go with a five-cylinder setup. The driving characteristics were unique, to say the least, albeit a bit different (via Motor Trend).

Acura Vigor
Photo Credit: Carscoops

Unfortunately, the Vigor design never caught on with consumers. The five-cylinder engine setup was odd in a new segment. Luxury car shoppers were still used to going for the enormous V8 engines or supercharged V6 powerplants. The Vigor with its unique look and feel simply didn’t catch on in the way Honda had hoped.

Photo Credit: Honda

15: Honda Insight (First Generation)

The dawn of the new millennium was a strange time for automakers and technology. The dot-com boom was among us, and hybrids were a new type of car. Honda released the quirky Insight to much avail in 2000. The car had a two-seater design and looked like it came out of the future. The problem is that the original Insight was not that practical of a car at all (via Motor Biscuit).

Photo Credit: Honda

Honda couldn’t justify the design of the car to the average Civic buyer who needed a backseat. The performance of the Insight was lethargic at best, which turned many consumers off. The original Insight could have been much more, but Honda wasn’t innovative. Its design was too limited and the price tag was a tad bit too high.

Photo Credit: Honda

14: Honda CRZ

The Honda CRZ was an experimental sports car that combined a hybrid drivetrain with lightweight characteristics. The driving experience was not as exciting as Honda promoted, and this let a lot of enthusiasts down. The styling was a mixture of early 2000s Honda Insight combined with a Hyundai Veloster (via Motor Biscuit).

Photo Credit: Honda

The Honda CRZ was a fairly limited car in terms of appeal. The hatchback area was fairly cramped, and the short wheelbase made it handle like dirt. The CRZ didn’t do well with consumers, and the model was quietly discontinued after 2016. The CRZ could have been a much better success had it been the spiritual successor to the original CRX.

Photo Credit: Automobile

13: 1991 Acura NSX Automatic

When the original Acura NSX was released, the car was unlike any other sports car on the market. The sheer styling was a blend of Ferrari and Honda put together. Many automotive critics were optimistic about what Honda could bring to the table. The NSX with a manual transmission was a dream come true, but the automatic option, not so much (via Autoweek).

Photo Credit: Acura

That’s not to say the NSX was an ailing car in and of itself. The NSX is the car many drivers dreamed about driving as kids. The styling was far different than anything else on the market at the time. But the automatic transmission was notoriously prone to failure, and that was a problem for an $80k-plus sports car.

Photo Credit: Honda

12: 1995 Honda Odyssey

The original Odyssey is one that most drivers simply don’t remember. The styling was different than any other van at the time. The four swinging doors, rather than sliding doors, were something Mazda had attempted with the MPV. The Odyssey was a lot smaller than the offerings from Chrysler and Ford (via Car and Driver).

Photo Credit: Car Domain

The original Odyssey was a letdown for many reasons. Honda assumed they knew what their customers were looking for. In reality, the Odyssey was a far cry from anything a Honda customer wanted. This generation of the Odyssey is by far the most reliable model, as the later generation had transmission issues.

Photo Credit: The Truth About Cars

11: Isuzu Oasis

Honda had a strange relationship with Isuzu Motors as we detailed with the Acura SLX. The Oasis was another partnership between the two automakers. Based on the first-generation Oddysey, the Oasis was just as lackluster. With the same four-door design, the Oasis was nothing that minivan shoppers were actually interested in buying (via The Truth About Cars).

Photo Credit: Jalopnik

The Oasis was a way for Isuzu to try and attract customers into their showrooms. After the SUV debacles of the late 1980s and early 1990s with rollover incidents, Isuzu needed a change of face. The Oasis was unfortunately not the change of face that the company needed, and the sales were minuscule altogether.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

10: Isuzu I-Mark

The Isuzu I-Mark is a car that you probably don’t remember sold in the 1980s. The wider recognized version of the I-Mark was the Geo Spectrum. Both cars were sales flops for the automaker, and Isuzu would exit the passenger car market shortly thereafter. Reliability was scarce on the I-Mark and the Spectrum, which caused consumers to revolt (via Hagerty).

Photo Credit: Car Domain

There were some unusual features about the I-Mark, one of which was the Lotus-tuned suspension. The I-Mark could handle the twists and turns of the open road well. Isuzu also managed to incorporate a substantial amount of standard features into the I-Mark. But the internal competition from GM meant Isuzu couldn’t supply its own dealerships.

Photo Credit: Nostalgic Car

9: Isuzu Impulse

The Impulse is another skeleton of early 1990s GM products. GM designed the car in partnership with Isuzu. The more widely known version of the Impulse was the Geo Storm, which sold 3-to-1 compared to the Impulse. The Impulse had an optional turbocharger but reliability was lacking at best (via The Drive).

Photo Credit: Nostalgic Car

The build quality on the Impulse was also questionable. Consumers often had to spend more time in the shop than on the road. The design of the Impulse was attractive but the build quality was questionable. Isuzu managed to sell only a small amount of these cars before the line was discontinued altogether.

Photo Credit: BAT

8: Isuzu Trooper

There was a time when the Trooper was among one of the best-selling SUV models of all time. The popularity was through the roof for the Trooper until a Consumer Reports article derailed the whole thing. Consumer Reports pointed out that the Trooper was especially prone to rollover accidents (via Gear Patrol).

Photo Credit: Car Domain

Given the Trooper was primarily targeted at families, this was not a good thing. The Trooper was deemed unsafe, and ever since then, Isuzu got a bad rap. Although the model was improved over time, Isuzu never did anything to address the problem. The Trooper was still a top-heavy SUV that lacked in the safety department.

Photo Credit: Isuzu

7: Isuzu I-Series

You might not be familiar with the I-Series brand, and that’s because Isuzu left the American car market shortly after the release. The more familiar versions of the I-Series were the Chevrolet Colorado and the GMC Canyon twins. These trucks were notoriously unreliable for many reasons, but the main one came down to the five-cylinder engine (via Auto Trader).

Photo Credit: Isuzu

There was a defect in the heads that caused the engine to malfunction at low mileage. This failure would cause an engine misfire that could never be diagnosed or fixed. GM never provided any support for this, so owners were forced to eat it. That wasn’t a sound business, and the Colorado brand never recovered from this mishap.

Photo Credit: Nissan USA

6: Infiniti G20

Is it possible to mess up a compact luxury sedan? Yes, it is – just ask Infiniti. The automotive brand messed up the G20. The compact G20 had an excellent design and a lot going for it, but the performance was lethargic. Nissan threw the worst engine they could into the G20, and consumers responded negatively (via Autoweek).

Photo Credit: Car Domain

Given the fact that the G20 was competing head-on against the BMW 3-Series, there was no reason for it to be lacking in performance. Reliability was also shoddy, with the G20 suffering from transmission issues early on. The redesigned G20 that arrived in 1999 was no better, and the sales were some of the worst the brand has witnessed.

Photo Credit: Zomb Drive

5: Infiniti J30

The Infiniti J30 was another sedan that Infiniti rushed to the market. The problem with the J30 was that it was smaller than the competition. The cramped interior didn’t bode well with shoppers who were in the market for a luxury sedan. The single engine choice was also a drawback when there were smoother options on the road, like the ES300 (via Hooniverse).

Photo Credit: Nissan

Another problem with the J30 was the rear-end, which had a humped design. The end result was a sedan that lacked the cohesive styling you’d expect. Likewise, the performance of the J30 was also lacking. In the luxury car segment, performance is one of the main selling factors and the J30 was lacking.

Photo Credit: Nissan

4: 2007 Nissan Sentra SE-R

In the mid-2000s, there were all-kind compact cars catering to the tuning market. Whether it was the Dodge Neon SRT or the Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart. Nissan figured they’d throw their hat into the race. The Sentra SE-R had a good concept, but the end result was lacking in several areas (via Car and Driver).

Photo Credit: Nissan

For starters, the SE-R was more of an appearance package than anything. Nissan didn’t up the ante with any sort of performance enhancement. This meant that while the badge on the car read “SE-R”, there was no performance enhancement to speak of. The Sentra has never been considered a sports car, but Nissan missed the mark with this one.

Nissan Cube Via Motor Trend
Photo Credit: Motor Trend

3: Nissan Cube

The thing with automotive design trends is that they don’t stick. Scion hit gold with the XB in 2004 but Nissan tried the same thing almost a decade later. The Cube didn’t connect with consumers on any level. Unlike the XB the Cube was just considered a knockoff of the earlier Scion car and no one went for it (via Axle Addict).

Photo Credit: Nissan

Nissan attempted to sell a couple of these horrible models to no avail. While the Cube had some unique dynamics the final product was lacking. The lethargic performance and lack of innovation left the Cube sitting on dealership lots. The car could have been so much more but Nissan dropped the ball on it.

Photo Credit: Nissan

2: Nissan Murano Cabriolet

We have to give Nissan credit for pushing the envelope when it comes to design. The Murano Cabriolet was a unique-looking car. It wasn’t the first SUV to get a convertible top, but it was definitely the poorest selling. The egg-shaped design and the fact that it was a Nissan just didn’t sit well with consumers at all (via Jalopnik).

Photo Credit: Nissan

When you think of an SUV having a convertible top, this just isn’t the norm. Take the Jeep Wrangler, for instance, the removable top is like a badge of honor. On the Murano not so much, which meant that the sales were lackluster. The Murano Cabriolet will undoubtedly go down as one of the weirdest Nissan models.

Photo Credit: Nissan

1: Nissan Juke

Finally, we’ve come to the Nissan Juke, a car that needs no introduction. The bug-eyed Nissan was supposed to reinvigorate the lineup but it didn’t do any such thing. The Juke was unlike anything else that was on the market at the time. The tiny styling of the car was reminiscent of a crossover SUV in a much smaller package (via EVO).

Photo Credit: Nissan

Nissan was attempting to attract a younger customer base with the Juke. Unlike the Kia Soul and other competitors, the Juke managed to cultivate a cult-like following. But as time went on, consumers moved onto other vehicles in the same segment. The Juke somehow continued on without a major refresh and it was ultimately discontinued.

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