Thursday, September 24, 2009

Nostalgic Subcompact: 1988-1992 Daihatsu Charade

Daihatsu Charade
Do you remember the Daihatsu Charade? Do you even remember that Japanese automaker Diahatsu even sold cars in the U.S.? Well, they did, but even at the time, a lot of people didn't know.

From 1988-1992, the company offered a compact SUV called the Rocky, and a subcompact hatchback and sedan called the Charade. Kind of an odd name for a car, don't you think, especially considering, defines a "charade" as either a "riddling verse" or a "deceptive act or pretense."

Daihatsu traces its roots back to 1907 when it created small internal combustion engines, though the company wasn't officially “Daihatsu” until 1951. It was, however, the last Japanese automaker to enter the U.S. in 1988.

The 1988-1989 U.S.-market Charades were available only has a three-door hatchback. The car had a 92.1” wheelbase, an overall length of 144.9”, and a low curb weight. It was simplar in size to the Chevrolet Spectrum or Ford Festiva. In 1988, the only engine was the 1.0-liter, three-cylinder carbureted engine making 53 horsepower through a five-speed transmission. Fuel economy was rated 32/38. For 1989, a fuel-injected 1.3-liter four cylinder making 80 horsepower became available with either a five-speed manual or a three-speed automatic. Fuel economy was 30/35 (manual) and 27/31 (automatic).

The Charade was fairly slab-sided in looks, but certainly par for the course in the late '80s. One distinguishing feature were the rear fenders, which were nearly flat at the tops of the arches. A Charade sedan was introduced in '90, and was 14.7” longer than the hatch.

Mechanically speaking, these vehicles were very good. In fact, in 1992, J.D. Power placed Daihatsu first in owner satisfaction after buyers had owned the vehicle for 2–3 years. That was ahead of Toyota, BMW, Honda—everybody. Problem was, Daihatsu had few customers.

According to, Daihatsu suffered from brand awareness issues; people didn't even know Daihatsu was in the States. Plus, during the late 1980s and early 1990s, fuel was cheap, demand for small cars had declined, and Daihatsu was the ninth (and last) Japanese automaker to enter the U.S., and therefore was subjected to a voluntary Japanese-induced quota of only 12,000 vehicle exports a year.

Those who did look at the Charade were met with a high price tag. The MSRP for a 1992 Charade ranged from $6,797 to $9,997—pretty expensive for such a vehicle at the time. For that price, you could also get into a larger vehicle, such as a Honda Civic, a Nissan Sentra, or Ford Escort. Buyers could also cross shop the Suzuki Swift/Geo Metro, Ford Festiva, and Toyota Tercel. All were more established, all had more available dealer networks, all had more brand awareness; most were cheaper, too.

Although well made, the Charade (and Rocky) proved too expensive for the U.S. market. Combine this with the company's late arrival to the U.S. and the brand's underpromotion, and there wasn't much Daihatsu could do.

After slow sales (about 50,000 units total) and a loss of $14 million, Daihatsu pulled out of the U.S. in 1992. The Charade continued to be made and sold in markets all over the world, and is still part of Daihatsu's current lineup (although redesigned). In 1998, Toyota became the parent company of Daihatsu, and now sells some Toyota-made vehicles under the Daihatsu name alongside Daihatsu-designed products. An example would be the Materia, which is a rebadged Toyota bB, and is sold in Europe.

It's quite difficult to find information about the Charades marooned here in the U.S. There isn't hardly an enthusiast base to speak of in the States, although internationally, the Charade was quite popular, even for tuning (espeiclally the turbo variants that never came stateside, such as this Charade GTti from New Zealand). Genuine Daihatsu parts are still imported in the U.S. though Nagata Technology, Inc. The Web site, has a list of dealers in 12 states that can get parts for the U.S. Daihatsus. Technical and parts assistance is offered at no charge.

Got anything to add about the Charade? Post it up in the comments section!

1989 Daihatsu Charade Review (LA Times via
Daihatsu Motor Company Ltd. History (
Diahatsu planning to halt imports to U.S. (1992) (


Astroman said...

I almost bought a 90 1.0 a couple years ago, was red, had a 5 speed and was in awesome shape. Was hoping no one would bid on it at the auction, but it went for $1,500.

Andy Lilienthal said...

Wow; $1,500? That's pretty pricey for a 1.0.

D2M said...

Daihatsu is still strong in Japan. I had never heard of them before and thought they were Korean. Woops. :P

Unknown said...

I just got my Daihatsu for $1200 and it runs like a top! It needs some body work and parts, but I know how hard they are to find here in the US. I had one in Australia when I lived there and have been hooked ever since. It has taken me 3 years to find one that is in great condition! Finally! If you find a Dai, snatch it up cause you're going to have a great little car that gets around 40 MPG w/ the A/C on!


Isaiah 41:13 said...

I have my 1988 charade that I purchased off the showroom floor. I bought it in Lancaster, CA. I love this car! It needs a few parts..never been in an accident..just someone who knows how to work on a 3-cyl engine. It still runs.

Anonymous said...

My 1992 Daihatsu Charade Sedan currently has 307,000 miles on it.

Anonymous said...

Yes! The 1990 Charade was my first car. LOVED it. In 1997 it cost literally $12 to fill the tank... and that would last me at least a week.

Anonymous said...

I still drive my 92 Charade and love now has 63400 miles on it and is as new with origonal paint...automatic amd 4 cyl...looks good sitting next to the new Fiat 500 Lounge