First and foremost, I apologise to anyone expecting an article on the venerable, and very lovely yellow, Honda NSX seen above. In this article I’m instead delving not into the minute details of the everyman’s Japanese super car, but rather discussing the very fabric of how such a car, and many others like, it came to exist in such a tumultuous economic climate as that in 1990s Japan. Thus, you’ve been warned....a comprehensive undergraduate thesis on the modern Japanese economy is in store, but its so much more than that.
After coming to the sudden realisation that I’m rather intrigued by contemporary Japanese culture in general yet hold virtually no deeper knowledge on their unique and widely-regarded automotive produces, I’ve decided to submerge myself into uncharted waters, by going down a boredom-induced rabbit hole over the last several days in order to try and gain some deeper insight into the mysterious characteristics of the Japanese automotive industry and culture encapsulating it.
In essence, Japan’s unprecedented economic growth in the 1980s, spurred by a surge in demand for technologically-revolutionary consumer goods in the Western world and a relentless striving for growth at home as the world become increasingly more homogenised and globalised facilitated the Japanese economy to grow to new heights. In the unpredictable and dilapidated post-war economy, the Japanese populous were incentivised by the government to save what little money that had accumulated or retained and spend little on trivial goods.
However, by the dawn of the 1980s, the consumer base and especially the country’s largest conglomerates were flush with capital that they were eager to utilise leading to the considerably more indulgent spending and a desire for the most technologically-radical products from consumers and a mission, so to speak, to produce the most over-engineered and avant-garde product lines by the manufacturers.
After all, if they had the money to spend, and people had the money to buy, no one loses. Billions upon billions of dollars (and many more yen) was pushed into the development of a sprawling range of models to an overly-obsessive degree. It seemed that the engineers, abundant in investment capital, were simply making the most astonishing and niche products they could devise and then worrying about selling it to the increasingly wealthier Japanese consumers later. Did the world fundamentally require a mid-engined kei-sized micro car with gullwing doors from Mazda and Suzuki, no. Did the world need tremendous performance coupes with 4WD, ceramic turbochargers, four wheel computer controlled and electronically actuated steering systems, advanced satellite navigation and twin-rotor experimental powertrains, no, of course not.
However, this striving to push the envelope of engineering boundaries and to introduce radical new technologies to the consuming public for the first time is one of the most significant eras in the automotive world. Conversely, if it seems too good to be true that a country that experienced nuclear warfare and a complete reconstruction of society and one as small as Japan, could sustain this unprecedented growth and technological implementation, you’d be right.
By the early 1990s, the overvaluation, over-leverage and over-dependency on unsustainable economic market growth and the exploding property market soon caught up on Japan, and decimated not only the economy as a whole, but quickly coerced a reality check onto the manufacturers. The seemingly endless streams of investment capital for automotive development quickly vanished along with the financial status of most of the Japanese populous, most of which had been held only by the increasingly expanding yet now stagnant property market, leading to what many now refer to as, “Japan’s lost decade”.
While today, Japanese cares have become a staple of quality and conformity in the industry, it is always intriguing to indulge in their almost unbelievable past. A time when they built cars for anyone and everyone, virtually irregardless of the financial motivations of implications. Today, such beloved vehicles to Japanese aficionados have returned, consisting of the new Honda/Acura NSX, BMW Supra and Nissan GTR, but it is perhaps the original efforts, devised under seemingly limitless budgets and potential that catch the heart of many still.