CC Capsule: 1993 Isuzu PA Nero – Export And Die

Pity the poor Isuzu car branch. They tried everything. The sophisticated mid-ranger Bellett. The dependable taxicab Bellell. The sexy Italian-infused 117 Coupé, based on the quirky Florian. The GM world car Gemini, both in RWD and FWD flavours. Apart from that last one, nothing really sold that well. If it hadn’t been for their pickup trucks, buses and SUVs selling like the proverbial hotcakes (save for the VehiCross), Isuzu would be long gone by now.

Well, they did sell quite a few PA Neros, but not as Isuzu and not in Japan. North America received this car as the 1990-94 Geo Storm, distributed by GM in the US and Canada but built in Japan by Isuzu. They couldn’t churn them out fast enough, but not with an Isuzu badge.

I’m not exaggerating the car’s success: over 285,000 Geo Storms were sold in five years, just in the US and Canada. Perhaps that was to do with the marque more than anything else. To put that into perspective, the 2nd generation Isuzu Impulse (Gemini Coupé in Japan), which was the exact same car with a different nose and tail, sold a little over 16,000 units worldwide from 1990 to 1993.

Similarly, the Geo took North America by storm (ha ha), but its JDM equivalent, i.e. the Isuzu PA Nero we have here, was an absolute dud. Isuzu tabled on a very modest 300 units in monthly sales (including the weird hatchback/wagon), but even that turned out to have been overly ambitious: between May 1990 and January 1995, they sold just under 3000 – again, hatchback included.

This was in spite of tweaking the car to local tastes, including a softer suspension, and creating several variants. These included an Irmscher model that had a turbocharged 1.6 litre DOHC engine and 4WD, the 150J model (turbocharged 1.5 litre engine and 4WD) and a limited edition “Handling by Lotus” version. It was all to no avail, the Japanese public just didn’t bite.

What went wrong? Isuzu were caught between GM and GM’s Japanese buddies, i.e. the all-powerful importer Yanase. Instead of selling the PA Nero through Isuzu dealerships, GM had them distributed by the importer, even though they were domestically-made. To be fair, they had done that with some Piazzas in the recent past – those were called Piazza Nero and sold decently well. But this time, the Isuzu sports car was to be a Yanase exclusive. And few people heard of it because of that. Plus, the folks who frequented Yanase dealers were usually there shopping for Mercedes-Benzes, Volvos or Buicks. Not Isuzus.

The PA Nero / Impulse / Storm was a typical Pyrrhic victory for its maker. Domestically, it failed miserably, in large part because they were not allowed to sell it. It was an export success, but only under a different marque. In 1994, Isuzu gave up on their in-house car designs, only carrying on with Honda clones for the JDM and refocusing on trucks and SUVs globally. If it weren’t for bad luck, Isuzu’s long-suffering car branch would have had no luck at all.


Related posts:


Car Show Classic: 1991 Isuzu Impulse RS- Diesel? No Dude, Turbo!, by David Skinner

Curbside Classic: 1992 Geo Storm GSi – Storm Trooper, by PN

CC Outake: Getting Passed On The Right By A Geo Storm.. by Geraldo Solis