Daihatsu can lay claim to being the first Japanese Manufacturers to set up an concessionaire in the UK and although it was far from successful it did provide the British public with a taste of the Japanese cars offered. It was road tested shortly after its release in September 1964, about a year before the next manufacturer, Toyota arrived in the UK. The 797cc Compagno was more expensive than a BMC 1100, and combined with a poor dealer network failed to sell.
Both the 797cc 4 door saloon and 3 door station wagon where imported, and replaced 2 years later by the 958cc saloon model. The pretty spider cabriolet version was also introduced at the same time which would have provide the public with a very cheap way into open top motoring. The 797cc station wagon was re-introduced in April 1967, and all 3 models continued until the marque pulled out of the UK sometime in 1969. Documentation for new car registration, have been batched together with other foreign imports so its not straight forward to access the sales figures, but one can assume that the pull out was due to a near total lack of presences in the market. Not surprisingly ultra rare today with the first import into the UK and at least one cabriolet known to exist.
Bouyed by the success of most of the Japanese imports, Daihatsu re-introduced their passenger cars range back into the UK in 1979 with the 2 year old G10 Charade range, they had been importing the F20 van for about a year or so but this was the manufacturers first UK bound car since the Compagno. By this time Daihatsu were 51% owned by Toyota, which allowed some level of financial confidence, but the connection between the brands wasn’t that well known in the UK at the time. The Charade was imported initially as 3 cylinder 5 door hatchback, and was noted for its clean styling and became a decent seller in Japan. The first imports started slowly with 226 cars sold in its first year but created a more noticeable impact compared to the original imports with a series of nationwide marketing campaigns. Daihatsu were also importing small vans, pick ups and most crucially the short wheel based off road vehicles which eventually became the brands specialty in the UK. Another model was released, using a 4 stroke 2 cylinder engine, the Domino was clearly the best in budget motoring, but its 547cc engine struggled with anything other than town driving.
The G10 Charade model continued until 1983 and replaced by the G11, with several updates and maintained a steady but small presence in the market. The introduction of the Turbocharged version started to pick up favour in the UK motoring press, it became known for its brisk delivery despite its tiny engine. Subsequent versions became more refined and the Charade soon became a familiar sight in the UK. Daihatsu also decided to import the Corolla based 4 door saloon Charmant in 1981, to help expand the sales of the cars. It was conventionally engineered, with a high level of specification and build quality, which included a 5 speed gearbox on both 1.3 (Corolla sourced) and 1.6 (Carina) litre engines as standard. In truth the car may have appealed more to a conservative market, as it used the RWD drive train. The Saloon shaped FWD hatchback Applause may have offered something of a replacement when it arrived in 1989.
Daihatsu scaled down their world wide operations at the turn of the 2010’s. Many of their models were now sold with Toyota badges and there’s evidence that the brand were slowly being assimilated into the Toyota range. Imports ceased in the UK in 2008, after a series of worthy and technically robust designs. The brand had consistently maintained excellent reliability and dealer satisfaction, which made the decision to axe the brand in the UK unusual. Pre 1980’s Daihatsu’s are virtually extinct today – it is thought that just a tiny handful of Compagnos and original Charades survive. As number decrease of Daihatsu cars in the UK, perhaps the coveted mini-Audi TT styled Copen will serve as a reminder of the brand in the UK.
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