Isuzu established a diesel research committee in 1934 and poured its energies into the development of diesel engines, a technology that had not yet been commercially established, even in the advanced nations of Europe and North America. In 1936 it introduced the air-cooled 5.3-litre DA6 diesel engine, followed three years later by the DA4, which went on to serve as the foundation of all later generations of Isuzu diesel engines. These were Japan’s first commercial diesel engines and marked a breakthrough in the history of diesel engine development. Since then, the company has supplied industrial engines for various types of applications, including construction machinery, generators, and even snow vehicles to be used for expeditions in the harsh and precarious conditions of the South Pole, maintaining a strong reputation among industrial machinery manufacturers, both in Japan and overseas.
On the South African front, the Isuzu story started in the early 1970s with the launch of the Chevrolet LUV (Light Utility Vehicle), in essence the first Isuzu ‘bakkie’, which was imported from Japan. Local production of the LUV commenced in 1972 at the Kempston Road plant in Port Elizabeth, and in 1973 Isuzu-based trucks were introduced for the first time. The KB nomenclature which is unique to South Africa was first introduced when the facelifted LUV was released in 1979, but this time branded as an Isuzu KB. The following year saw the South African introduction of the Isuzu KB40, the first petrol- and diesel-powered 4-wheel drive pick-up from Japan. Now in its 6th Generation, the Isuzu KB continues the legacy established by the LUV.
While the press seems to relegate Isuzu to the commercial/utility sector it does in fact have a reasonable passenger car making history. In 1953 Isuzu started producing the Minx, a carbon-copy of the Hillman version sporting the same name, thanks to a licence agreement with the British Rootes Group. This remained in production through to 1962, with the arrival of Isuzu’s first own car, the Bellel – naming done by taking the English word ‘bell’ and combining it with the Roman numeral ‘L’ (50) to mean fifty bells.