From Shipbuilding to Supercars: The Amazing History of Mitsubishi

From Shipbuilding to Supercars: The Amazing History of Mitsubishi

You're about to uncover the incredible journey of Mitsubishi from its humble beginnings as a shipping company to becoming one of the world's most innovative manufacturers. This article will transport you through over a century of tenacious innovation, record-setting feats, and a dedication to advancing technology that continues to shape the future. From building record-setting aircraft to pioneering electric vehicles, Mitsubishi's fearless spirit has fueled their rise to automotive fame. As you learn about their storied history of firsts, you'll understand how Mitsubishi earned its reputation for engineering excellence. This article chronicles an epic voyage from seafaring to supercars.

The Early Days: Mitsubishi's Founding and Roots in Shipbuilding

From building ships to building supercars, Mitsubishi has come a long way since its founding in 1870! Back then, an ambitious entrepreneur named Yataro Iwasaki started a shipping company with just three steamships. He named it Tsukumo Shokai - which means "90th Year Trading Company" - and aimed to grow it into a business that would last a century.

  • Iwasaki was on the right track, because the shipping operations took off quickly. The company transported coal and other commodities between major Japanese ports.

  • Just a few years later in 1874, Tsukumo Shokai was renamed Mitsubishi Steamship Company. The name "Mitsubishi" was chosen because it used a combination of the Japanese words "mitsu" (meaning "three") and "hishi" (meaning "water chestnut" and used to denote a diamond or rhombus shape).

  • This three-diamond logo reflected the company's ambitions - to build a business empire as strong and enduring as a diamond.

  • The shipping operations continued to prosper under Iwasaki's leadership. By 1884, Mitsubishi's fleet had grown to over 100 steamships. Shipbuilding became a core focus and major source of growth for the company during this period.

  • In 1917, the company's shipbuilding assets were spun off into the new Mitsubishi Shipbuilding Co., Ltd. This shipbuilding arm produced vessels for both civilian and military clients in the decades that followed.

  • Then in 1934, Mitsubishi Shipbuilding merged with Mitsubishi Aircraft Co. and Mitsubishi Internal Combustion Engine Co. to create an industrial giant - Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. With this new consolidated business structure, Mitsubishi expanded into manufacturing all types of heavy machinery.

From those humble beginnings with just three aging steamships, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries has gone on to build everything from ships to planes to cars to rockets, cementing its place as one of Japan's most iconic and diversified corporations. But it all started with ships!

Expanding Into Vehicles: Mitsubishi's First Automobiles

Get ready to learn about the exciting history of Mitsubishi's early days making cars! This enthusiastic company started rolling vehicles off their production line over 100 years ago.

  • In 1917, Mitsubishi made history by producing the Model A, the first mass-produced passenger automobile in Japan. This milestone paved the way for Mitsubishi to become a major player in the auto industry.

  • Only 22 cars, including prototypes, were hand-assembled at Mitsubishi's shipyard in Kobe before 1921. It's amazing to think about these first pioneering automobiles being meticulously put together.

  • Fast forward to 1934 when Mitsubishi launched the PX33, their first domestically mass-produced passenger car. This stylish vehicle had a 65 horsepower engine and could reach speeds up to 75 mph.

  • By 1936, Mitsubishi was rolling out over 1,000 cars from its factories annually. Production ramped up quickly in just 20 years.

From the Model A to the sleek PX33, it's inspirational to look back at the beginnings of this powerhouse company. Mitsubishi overcame challenges as newcomers to car manufacturing and steadily built up production. Their vision and determination to bring reliable transportation to the people paved the way for the renowned vehicles they design today.

When you're cruising in your modern Mitsubishi, take a moment to appreciate how far the company has come. The journey from shipbuilding to supercars is a fascinating ride!

Mitsubishi During World War II: Manufacturing for the War Effort

Mitsubishi was right in the thick of manufacturing for Japan's war efforts in the 1940s. When WWII broke out, Mitsubishi used its shipyards and aircraft factories to produce military vehicles and equipment for Imperial Japan's armed forces.

  • The company built fighter planes, bombers, and the famed Mitsubishi A6M "Zero" carrier-based fighter aircraft. These nimble Zeros gave Japanese pilots an edge early in the Pacific air war.

  • Mitsubishi also manufactured the Nakajima B5N "Kate" torpedo bombers used in the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor that brought America into the war. The Kates delivered devastation, sinking four U.S. battleships and damaging many more ships.

  • In addition to aircraft, Mitsubishi made tanks, artillery, ships, and torpedoes for the Imperial Japanese Navy. The company's advanced torpedoes were among the deadliest in the world at the time.

The war effort required massive manpower, so Mitsubishi used conscripted forced labor in many of its factories. This included nearly 900 Allied prisoners of war held in abysmal conditions and forced to work - a grim chapter in Mitsubishi's history.

While Mitsubishi's manufacturing prowess aided Japan early in the war, ultimately the Allies' industrial might prevailed. After WWII, Mitsubishi redirected its engineering talent to rebuilding and innovating for peacetime. This paved the way for the company's rise in the auto industry and beyond.

Post-War Recovery and Growth

After WWII, Japan focused on rebuilding its industrial capacity through close cooperation between the government and large companies. This helped propel the rise of keiretsu - business groups centered around a major bank.

Mitsubishi was at the heart of one of these powerful keiretsu. Its strategic coordination with partner firms like Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ allowed it to realign and diversify into new growth areas.

  • Mitsubishi partnered with automobile manufacturers, using its engineering know-how from the shipbuilding industry to help launch Japan's auto industry. This led to the creation of Mitsubishi Motors in 1970.

  • It expanded into commercial aviation through a partnership with Boeing, producing over 2,000 aircraft by the 1990s. This demonstrated Mitsubishi's ability to adapt and take on ambitious new projects.

  • Mitsubishi moved into consumer goods like electronics, food and beverages. You can find its iconic three-diamond logo on everything from air conditioners to Kirin beer!

Through these strategic ventures, Mitsubishi fueled Japan's post-war economic miracle. Its growth mirrored the country's own recovery and development into a global economic powerhouse.

Today, Mitsubishi continues to evolve. It recently unveiled the Mitsubishi Regional Jet and aims to be the first Japanese company producing airliners since the 1960s. It's also partnering with Nissan to launch new kei cars for domestic markets.

Mitsubishi's resilience and willingness to take on new challenges make it a bellwether for Japanese industry. As it expands into green energy and emerging technologies, this storied company is poised for another century of growth.

Mitsubishi's Partnership With Chrysler in the 1970s

Hey, did you know Mitsubishi and Chrysler go way back? It's true! In the groovy 1970s, these two auto giants started an international partnership that brought some totally tubular cars to the US market.

  • In 1971, Chrysler bought 15% of Mitsubishi Motors, forming an alliance between the American and Japanese companies. This let Mitsubishi sell its petite and fuel-efficient models in the US under the Dodge and Plymouth brands. Radical!

  • The subcompact Dodge Colt and Plymouth Champ hatchbacks sold like hotcakes in the 1970s. During the gas crisis, everyone wanted a stylish little fuel-sipper. These rebadged Mitsubishis were just the ticket!

  • Throughout the 70s, the companies worked hand-in-hand designing new compacts and subcompacts. Chrysler's engineers helped Mitsubishi develop sporty coupes and hatchbacks perfect for cruising Main Street on a Saturday night.

  • By the end of the decade, over a quarter million Mitsubishi-designed vehicles were sold in North America as Dodges and Plymouths. Far out!

This groundbreaking partnership gave Mitsubishi its first major foothold in the lucrative US auto market. At the same time, it allowed Chrysler to offer innovative Japanese designs to customers seeking quality, fuel efficiency and style. A total win-win for both brands!

The Rise of Mitsubishi Motors in the 80s and 90s

Get ready for some sweet sweet Mitsubishi history, my friend. The 80s and 90s were like, the best time ever for this legendary Japanese automaker. After focusing on heavy industries for so long, Mitsubishi was ready to seriously up their game in the auto market.

  • In the late 80s, Mitsubishi initiated a major push to increase its presence in the U.S. They partnered up with Chrysler to sell rebadged models like the Dodge Colt. Genius! This helped grow their brand recognition with American drivers.

  • The 90s were even more rad for Mitsubishi. As the SUV market took off in Japan, Mitsubishi saw their domestic share rise to 11.6% in the mid-90s. Way to ride the waves of the hottest auto trends, Mitsubishi!

  • Then came the totally sweet Eclipse. This curvy coupe took the sports car scene by storm when it debuted in 1989. Young drivers couldn't get enough of the Eclipse's swooping lines and zippy performance.

  • Let's also give it up for the legendary Lancer Evolution, or "Evo" as the cool kids say. Introduced in 1992, this rally-bred rocket defined Mitsubishi's racing spirit for a whole new generation.

From heavy industry to high performance, Mitsubishi was firing on all cylinders in the 80s and 90s. Their bold moves paid off with massive growth and some of the most unforgettable cars of the era. The future was looking bright for these automotive rock stars!

Mitsubishi Today: Focus on EVs and Crossovers

Mitsubishi Motors Corporation is charging ahead into the future with a focus on eco-friendly electric and hybrid vehicles. This forward-thinking company aims to electrify its lineup, showing its dedication to reducing emissions and protecting the environment.

  • In 2021, Mitsubishi unveiled plans to launch four new EV models by 2035, showing its commitment to an all-electric future. This is great news for anyone who cares about reducing their carbon footprint!

  • One of Mitsubishi's most popular hybrid models is the Outlander PHEV. This plug-in hybrid SUV lets you drive on electricity alone for up to 54 miles before the gas engine kicks in. How cool is that? No more range anxiety!

  • For pure electric driving, check out the super cute i-MiEV city car. It's small but surprisingly roomy inside and has a range of 62 miles per charge. Zipping around town producing zero emissions is a blast!

It's not all about being green - Mitsubishi also offers adventure-ready SUVs and trucks that appeal to outdoor enthusiasts. Models like the Montero Sport, L200 Triton truck, and Pajero Sport SUV are rugged and capable for off-roading or towing.

With such a diverse lineup of efficient hybrids, practical EVs, and rugged trucks and SUVs, it's clear Mitsubishi has something for everyone. This forward-thinking automaker is charging ahead to provide innovative vehicles that are in tune with the times. The future looks bright and eco-friendly with Mitsubishi!

Mitsubishi's Most Iconic Vehicles Over the Years

Get ready for a ride through Mitsubishi's greatest hits! From boxy econoboxes to rally rockets, this company has created some seriously iconic cars over the decades. Let's take a tour through automotive history and look back on Mitsubishi's most memorable machines.

  • The Mini Kei Cars: Before they were making massive SUVs and sports cars, Mitsubishi got their start with a line of teensy city runabouts. Starting in 1960 with the dinky 500, followed by the 360 in 1961, these microcars exemplified "less is more" with their ultra-compact dimensions. While not the most glamorous, they got Japan moving after World War II.

  • Lancer Evolution: This all-wheel drive turbocharged monster defined Mitsubishi's racing spirit. Debuting in 1992, the "Evo" dominated rally stages and became a tuner icon with ten hardcore generations made until 2016. Its blistering acceleration, tenacious handling, and iconic rear wing made it a legend.

  • Eclipse: Mitsubishi's affordable sporty coupe was the "it" car of the 1990s. With its racy looks and available turbo power, the Eclipse was many a Gen Xer's dream machine. Various versions lasted for over 20 years until 2012, leaving its mark on pop culture.

  • Montero: Before the SUV craze kicked off, Mitsubishi was there with their rugged and capable Montero. Starting in 1982, this body-on-frame brute could conquer tough terrain but still serve as a comfortable family hauler. Its off-road performance made it a favorite for outdoor adventures.

While not every model was a runaway hit, Mitsubishi has given us our fair share of classics over their century-plus in business. From world-beaters to econoboxes, their vehicles demonstrate a passion for driving. Here's to many more milestones ahead!

Mitsubishi History FAQs: Your Top Questions Answered

Mitsubishi has been around for nearly seven decades, so it's no surprise people have lots of questions about this iconic company's origins and evolution. Let's dive into some of the most frequently asked questions about Mitsubishi's rich history and find out what makes this brand so special!

  • When was Mitsubishi founded?

Mitsubishi's roots stretch all the way back to 1870, when it was established as a shipping firm in Japan. It entered the automotive world in 1917 and steadily grew over the decades into the diverse, international business we know today. Mitsubishi Motors itself was founded in 1970. So while the company has been around for over 150 years, its auto-making history spans about a century.

  • What was Mitsubishi's first car?

Mitsubishi's auto manufacturing took off in the 1960s with the Colt 1000 sedan in 1963. This affordable 4-door really put Mitsubishi on the map as a major car company. Other early Mitsubishi models that paved the way include the Galant in 1969 and the Lancer in 1973.

  • When did Mitsubishi start making sports cars?

In the 1990s, Mitsubishi began producing the high-performance sports cars it's now famous for, like the 3000GT and the iconic Evolution series. The Lancer Evolution, aka "Evo," especially cemented Mitsubishi's reputation for speed. This turbocharged machine and its rally racing fame brought the brand into a new era.

  • What is Mitsubishi's brand message today?

Mitsubishi's current slogan is "Drive Your Ambition." This energetic tagline captures the brand's spirit of innovation and passion. Mitsubishi also uses "Creating Together" to highlight its collaborative approach to designing cutting-edge vehicles.

  • What's next for Mitsubishi?

Today, Mitsubishi is focusing on SUVs and electrified models, like the Outlander PHEV and the Eclipse Cross. The company also has ambitious sustainability goals, aiming for carbon neutrality by 2050. As Mitsubishi celebrates its centennial in the auto industry in 2017, the future looks bright for this forward-thinking brand.

There you have it - a quick tour through Mitsubishi's storied history and glimpse into its future. Let me know if you have any other questions! I'm always happy to chat Mitsubishi.


And there you have it, folks - the incredible journey of Mitsubishi from its humble beginnings as a shipping firm to one of the world's most renowned and respected automakers. What started as a vision by Yataro Iwasaki to unite the world through shipping was transformed into a global industrial powerhouse making everything from the legendary Zero fighter plane to the iconic Lancer Evolution performance sedan. You've seen how through perseverance, innovation, and dedication to quality, Mitsubishi has earned its place among the greats. As you get behind the wheel of your new Outlander or Eclipse Cross, take a moment to appreciate the storied history behind the three-diamond logo. The spirit of enterprise lives on in these machines as Mitsubishi continues reaching new heights. What an inspiring ride it's been!


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