A pillar of modern Japan
A pillar of modern Japan
It may seem strange but car maker Mitsubishi was initially established as a shipping company in 1870 and when it did diversify (as so many did) it was mostly into related fields.
It went into coal-mining, for example, to guarantee supply of the coal needed for its ships. It bought a shipbuilding yard to repair the ships, founded an iron mill to supply iron to the shipbuilding yard and even started a marine insurance business.
That led to banking, warehousing and trade and later diversification took the company into paper, steel and glass manufacturing, electrical equipment, aircraft manufacture and even real estate.
In fact, Mitsubishi is often seen as playing a central role in the creation of modern Japan because of its broad industrial base.
Mitsubishi became a car maker in 1917 when Mitsubishi Shipbuilding introduced the Mitsubishi Model A, Japan's first full production car, a seven-seat sedan that was hand-built. It was expensive, and production lasted until 1921. When it was finally discontinued, Mitsubishi had built just 22 examples.
In 1937, the company's Mitsubishi Heavy Industries division tried again with the PX33, a car built for military use and the first Japanese-built passenger car to feature four-wheel drive.
When World War Two finally ended Mitsubishi returned to vehicle manufacturing. Fuso bus production restarted, and a small three-wheeled cargo vehicle and a scooter were developed.
It all came to a grinding halt in the early 1950s though when the occupying allied forces split Mitsubishi Heavy Industries into three regional companies, each with involvement in vehicle development.
One group started importing Kaiser Motors' Henry J in Completely Knocked Down (CKD) form in 1951 while another did the same with Willys famous Jeep CJ-3B.
The third, now known as Shin Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, started an automotive department in 1953 and introduced its first car, the Mitsubishi 500 sedan. It was followed in 1962 by the Minica light car and the Colt 1000 in 1963.
The three disparate divisions were reformed as Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in 1964 and the first car from the recombined company was the Galant in 1969. In 1970 the partners were officially named Mitsubishi Motors Corporation as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.
Mitsubishi cars were sold in Australia from the late 1960s as fully-imported vehicles but went into local production at Chrysler's Tonsley Park factory in Adelaide in 1972 following Chrysler's acquisition of 15 per cent of Mitsubishi.
Chrysler Australia started building Mitsubishi-designed cars (but badged as Chryslers) with cars such as the Mitsubishi Galant-based Chrysler Valiant Galant and the Chrysler Sigma.
In 1979 Mitsubishi Motors Corporation and Mitsubishi Corporation each bought a one-sixth equity in Chrysler Australia and in April 1980 the two companies bought the remaining shares in the company from the US Chrysler Corporation.
Chrysler Australia became Mitsubishi Motors Australia Limited in October 1980 and Sigma production continued until 1987 when it was superseded by the bigger Magna sedan which was based on the Japanese Galant.
Magna lasted for three generations before an all-new car, the 380, replaced it in 2005. It was launched into a growing market but failed to connect with buyers. Sales started poorly and got worse, daily production dropping from 180 to 50 and the workforce vanishing at a similar rate.
Strangely, Mitsubishi's imports did not experience the same retail failure, and on February 5, 2008, it was announced Mitsubishi Australia would stop production at the end of March 2008.
By late 2009 the last piece of manufacturing equipment was removed from Tonsley Park and the plant's ownership handed over to the South Australian Government.
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