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American Trucks with Japanese Badges: Four Forgotten Pickups from the '90s & '00s

Recently we took a look back at the early days of the mini truck market in North America and saw that all three of the compact pickups sold by American automakers in the 1970s were actually imported from Japan through partnerships with Japanese automakers.

Interestingly, as the years went on and the segment grew, American automakers not only began to develop their own small pickup trucks, but by the 1990s the roles had reversed and know these American-built pickups were re-badged, re-styled and sold with Japanese brand names.

Here are four big examples which spanned from the early 1990s all the way through the late 2000s.

Mazda B-Series/Ford Ranger

In the early ‘70s Ford entered the small pickup market selling an imported version of the Mazda B-Series known as the Ford Courier. The Courier was replaced by the new Ford Ranger in the 1980s while Mazda continued to sell its own B-Series trucks through the early 1990s.

Mazda B-Series For Ranger 4x4

In 1994, the roles were reversed. The Mazda B-Series was now a re-badged and slightly restyled version of the second generation Ranger, built here in America.

Mazda B4000 4x4 Rear View

This partnership lasted all the way through 2009 when Mazda stopped selling pickup trucks in North America.

Mazda B-Series Pickup Red

Isuzu Hombre/Chevy S-10

General Motors got into the small truck market in the early ‘70s with the the Chevy LUV, a re-branded Isuzu pickup built in Japan. The LUV was offered until the early ‘80s when GM’s own S-10 pickup debuted.

Isuzu Hombre Single Cab 1996

Isuzu continued to sell its in the US truck under the “P’up” name into the early 1990s, but in 1996 again the roles were reversed as the P’up was replaced with a version of the second gen S-10 called the Isuzu Hombre.

Isuzu Hombre 4x4 Extended Cab

The Hombre actually used styling borrowed from the Brazilian market S-10 to distinguish it from its Chevy counterpart, but it never really caught on among American buyers, with sales ending in 2000.

Isuzu Hombre Black Rear View

Isuzu i-Series/Chevy Colorado

The Hombre wasn’t the end of the strange GM/Isuzu truck partnership in North America though. After a six year hiatus, Isuzu returned to to the small truck market in 2005 with its i-Series pickups.

Isuzu i-Series Crew Cab Off Road

The i-Series trucks were be-badged versions of the Chevy Colorado/GMC Canyon pickups, built in the same Lousiana factory. Not surprisingly the i-Series pickups were no more successful than the Hombre was.

Isuzu I-Series Crew Cab Yellow

In 2009 facing low sales and corporate restructuring at GM, Isuzu left the American auto market altogether. Isuzu does still build its own D-Max pickup, which is quite popular in markets like Thailand.

Isuzu I-Series Pickup in Sand

Mitsubishi Raider/Dodge Dakota

In the late 1970s, Chrysler called on its Japanese partner Mitsubishi to build its Ram 50 mini truck for the American market. The Mitsubishi-built Ram 50 was sold until 1994 when the larger Dodge Dakota took its spot as the small Dodge truck offering.

Mitsubishi Raider Pickup Silver

More than a decade later in 2005, Mitsubishi introduced a restyled version of the Dodge Dakota known as the Mitsubishi Raider. Much larger than the Mighty Max of the ‘80s and ‘90s, the Dodge-built Raider was a mid-size pickup powered by either V6 or V8 engines.

Mitsubishi Raider Pickup Off Road

With the popularity of both the Mitsubishi brand and mid-size trucks in decline, the Raider never caught on. A little over 20,000 examples were sold during its production run, which lasted until 2009. The Dakota itself didn’t last much longer, with production ending in 2011.

Mitsubishi Raider Crew Cab on Trail

Time will tell whether these pickups will ever be looked at as anything more than badge-engineered oddities, but they are just one of the many unusual products of relationships between Japanese and American automakers over the years.

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