What Brands Are JDM?

One of our favorite topics here at Garage Dreams is the weird and wonderful world of JDM (aka Japanese Domestic Market).

JDM cars cover a range of interesting vehicles from performance cars like the Nissan Skyline GT-R through to “Kei cars”, tiny little contraptions for economical passenger transport.

In previous articles we have looked at:

But in this article we want to go into a bit more depth about what brands are JDM by the strictest definition of the term.

So, What Car Brands Are Actually JDM?

Here’s where it gets a bit confusing – there is no such thing as a “JDM brand”.

If you’ve read our article on what JDM means, then you’ll know that it refers to cars built for the Japanese domestic market.

However, all Japanese manufacturers build cars for both the domestic market AND export/overseas markets.

Let’s use Honda as an example, along with a category of vehicle you wouldn’t expect to find on this website (MPV/people mover/minivan).

We all know the Honda Odyssey – perhaps one of the best minivans ever – and a common sight on roads across the world:

This is an example of a non-JDM car. The Odyssey was designed and built for sale in both Japan and in other countries, as you could buy it new in America, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand etc.

In other words, this is a Japanese car that wasn’t just build for Japan (so it isn’t JDM).

But here is a Honda minivan that is JDM – the Honda Elysion:

The Elysion was related to the Odyssey, but offered different trim/feature/engine options. In particular, you can have the Elysion with the 3.5v6 out of the Honda Legend, as seen in this episode of JayEmm on Cars:

Does That Mean That All Japanese Car Brands Are JDM?

Basically, yes.

As far as we are aware, every Japanese car brand has produced vehicles specific to the Japanese market.

As such, all Japanese car brands can be considered JDM, but that really is the wrong way to look at things.

Instead, think of JDM as a “sub-set” or “sub-category” of Japanese cars. Toyota makes cars that are sold in Japan and elsewhere (not JDM), cars that are only sold outside of Japan (definitely not JDM) and then cars that are only for Japan (JDM).

Variants Complicate Matters

One other thing to bear in mind is that there can be cars that are sold in both Japan and export markets that have specific JDM variants.

In some cases this is really just about trim level and specification.

An example of this is the Suzuki Swift (a car that may be alien to our American readers, but trust us when we say that it is one of the best small cars on the market today).

In New Zealand – where the editorial team is based – the roads are chock full of Suzuki Swifts, including the hot hatch “Sport” version.

There are many NZ-new Suzuki Swifts, as well as a great number of used Japanese imports.

In the earlier versions particularly, there is quite a bit of difference between the NZ-new spec and imported (JDM) variants.

For example the NZ Swifts had better safety features with more airbags, as well as nicer stereos etc whereas the Japanese market Swift was a lot more basic.

Non-JDM Japanese Car Brands

What is interesting is that the reverse does apply in some circumstances, most notably with Acura. Japan’s first luxury brand (beating Lexus to the punch) was not initially intended for sale in the Japanese domestic market. There were plans to bring Acura to Japan but these were put on ice due to the 08/09 financial crisis.

Another example is Lexus. While we think of Lexus as being one of the most reliable Japanese car brands, it wasn’t until about 2005 that Lexus cars were actually sold in Japan. Instead, the Japanese domestic market would get the “same” car as a Toyota often with different trim levels, equipment and naming.

For example, the early Lexus GS was sold in Japan as the Toyota Aristo:

Basically a four door Supra (with an automatic gearbox)

These are basically the same car, although the Lexus version was more luxurious/

The Toyota Aristo – however – was available with the engine from the MKIV Toyota Supra, which makes it one of the more popular examples of sleeper JDM performance.

Conclusion

As you can see, there isn’t really such thing as a “JDM brand”.

As far as we can tell, there are no brands that are specific to the Japanese Domestic Market (although we are happy to be corrected if you can think of any).

Instead, JDM is really a sub-set of the diverse range of Japanese automakers, where they build cars specifically for sale in the Japanese domestic market – based around the unique demands are requirements of that particular market.

What is your favorite Japanese car maker? And what is your favorite JDM car? Let us know in the comments below!

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