Section 1. The Japanese Automotive Market
Item 1. The Great Kanto Earthquake and Rapid Increase in U.S. Vehicle Imports
Kiichiro was caught in Tokyo during the Great Kanto Earthquake of September 1, 1923. At the time the earthquake struck, he was visiting a high school and university friend, Hideo Kobayashi, who worked at the Ministry of Railways1, to discuss automobiles. Risaburo Oshima recalls traveling to Tokyo to search for Kiichiro, to no avail. While he was waiting and worrying, Kiichiro came home, covered in dirt.
For Kiichiro, September 1 would always be a day he associated with automobiles. Ten years later, on September 1, 1933, the Automotive Production Division-which would eventually become the Automotive Department-was established within Toyoda Automatic Loom Works, Ltd.
The railway system was devastated by the Great Kanto Earthquake, and automobiles played a key role in transportation. Many of the lives saved from the fires that struck following the earthquakes were due to automobiles, and trucks were also widely used, from the post earthquake clean-up through to reconstruction. This event made many people realize the practical public role and convenience that automobiles, previously regarded as a luxury item, could offer.
As significant time was required to mend the railway system, the Tokyo Municipal Electric Bureau ordered 800 truck chassis from U.S. manufacturer Ford Motor Company. The completed chassis reached Yokohama Port in January 1924 and were immediately fitted with rough canvas top bodies for operation as municipal buses. These buses came to be known by the nickname "entaro bus".
The surge in demand for automobiles following the earthquake was met by U.S. automakers, whose mass production systems gave them an advantage in both supply capability and cost. American vehicles were 20-30 percent cheaper than European cars, and orders arrived in three months. Due to these factors, automobile orders were dominated by U.S. automakers, while European cars, which took six months to deliver, faded from the market.