The story of Isuzu Motors begins in 1916 when Tokyo Ishikawajima Shipbuilding and Engineering Co., Ltd. went into partnership with Tokyo Gas and Electric Industrial Company in order to begin producing cars. Two years later in 1918, a deal is made with British automotive manufacturer Wolseley Motors that gives Ishikawajima Automotive Works exclusive rights to both the production and sales of all Wolseley-branded vehicles in East Asia.
In 1933, Ishikawajima Automotive Works merged with DAT Automobile Manufacturing Incorporated to form Automobile Industries Co., Ltd. They later produced the Sumiya and Chiyoda cars, which in 1934 were given the name Isuzu after the Isuzu River, as a result of a meeting the Ministry of Trade and Industry. In 1937, the company reorganised into a new company called Tokyo Automobile Industries until 1949, when the company was finally given the name Isuzu.
The first vehicle to be released here was the Isuzu Bellet in 1964, a four-door sedan with a 1.5L engine. The Bellet was sold until 1970, when it was briefly replaced by the Florian model. The Florian was the last vehicle to be produced for the market here, using the Isuzu brand name until 1980.
However, General Motors bought a 34 per cent stake in Isuzu in 1972, leading to the release of the Isuzu-produced Holden Gemini in 1972, as well as a series of trucks that were marketed here by GM Holden under the Bedford name. The models were given the Isuzu name from 1980 onwards, starting the Isuzu brand’s long association with trucks and utility vehicles.
Isuzu Motors reintroduced the Isuzu brand to the car market in 1990 with the Isuzu Gemini, which was available as a sedan, hatch, and coupe, together with the Mu 4x4. From 1994 until 1997, the only vehicle (besides trucks) marketed under the Isuzu name was the Mu 4x4, which was briefly replaced by the Vehicross before the Isuzu name was discontinued in the car market. In 2002, Isuzu repurchased stock from its shareholders, reducing GM’s share from 49 per cent to 12 per cent, giving GM complete control of DMAX in the process.
As result of this recapitalisation program, Isuzu Motors now produces a series of trucks and tippers exclusively under the Isuzu name, whereas GM Holden now produces the Isuzu D-Max utility vehicle and cab chasses.
Although the Isuzu name is used by two different companies, we’re referring to the popular Isuzu-branded vehicles. Two of the most popular Isuzu-branded vehicles are the NLR 200 truck and the D-MAX utility vehicle.
The NLR 200 tipper model, rated at 2 tonnes, uses a 4-cylinder turbodiesel engine that produces 114kW of power and 419Nm of torque. The NLR comes with ABS and a driver’s side airbag as standard. The model is available in 2 trim levels: the Tradepack and the Tradepack Premium, which are only available with manual gearboxes.
The Tradepack model includes a ladder-rack and towbar that is rated at 3.5 tonnes, in addition to a 5-speed manual gearbox. The Tradepack Premium version includes a 6-speed manual gearbox and adds climate-control air-conditioning, fog lights, cruise control, metal toolbox, and an information display. The NLR 200 is available with either a short or medium-size wheelbase.
The LS-M D-Max ute comes with only one engine in the form of a 3.0L DOHC common rail injection turbodiesel engine with an output of 120kW at 3600rpm and 360Nm of torque at 1800-2800rpm when paired with the 5-speed manual transmission. This has a long throw shift and clutch travel when compared to other utility vehicles on the market. The LS-M D-Max has a four-wheel drive configuration but conveniently allows the switch to two-wheel drive for regular driving by pressing the appropriate button on the dashboard.
On the road, the LS-M is smooth, steady, and surprisingly economical in terms of fuel consumption, using a combined 8.4L/100km. The power-assisted steering is precise, and the brakes are a combination of front-disc and rear-drum, which are ably assisted in their stopping abilities by ABS and EBD. In addition, dual front airbags are fitted for added safety, giving the model a three-star ANCAP rating.
Most ute owners will want to use a trailer behind their vehicles which the 3-tonne towing capacity will handle with ease.
In terms of standard kit, the D-MAX includes air-conditioning, cruise control, leather wheel and gear knob, trip computer, power windows and mirrors, and a stereo system with CD player and mp3 connection.
Isuzu-branded vehicles have competition from the likes of Holden and Mitsubishi. While Holden provides utility vehicles to rival Isuzu in terms of standard kit, the Colorado model, for example, does not provide as comfortable a ride and provides less storage space than the Isuzu D-MAX. Mitsubishi produces tipper trucks to rival the Isuzu NLR 200, but similar models have less powerful engines.