Jul 23, 2018

Toyota’s Unfortunate Car Name

Hello fellow Expats, have you seen this kind of car zooming around the streets?

Toyota’s Unfortunate Car Name photo

Okay, at first glance, there’s nothing special about it, but let’s zoom in:

Toyota’s Unfortunate Car Name photo

It’s a Toyota ISIS—probably the most unfortunately named car in history.

Why is that? Well, it’s not just because ISIS became a globally known terrorist organization—it’s because it’s a globally known terrorist organization that also happens to be known for its preference for using Toyota vehicles.

Interest piqued at all?  If so, why don’t you jump aboard my train of thought for a while so I can provide a little backstory here. Maybe you’ll be mildly entertained. At the very least, you’ll have something to point out next time you have visitors in town.

So here we go...leaving the station...

For Toyota, the ISIS connection is purely coincidence, of course. The popular automaker was simply a victim of circumstance—not once, but twice.

The Toyota ISIS debuted in 2004 and was a subcontracted design from Kanto Auto Works. Nothing special about the name—just sounded cool. The car is only available in Japan, and it is hardly the type of vehicle that would be ideal for terrorist activity in a southwest Asian country. Meanwhile, ISIS, the subnational militant group formally known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) or Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), didn’t emerge until after the U.S. military withdrew its combat forces from Iraq in 2012. Of all the names that the militants picked, it just so happened to be the same as one of Toyota’s mid-sized family vehicles.

Then there’s the issue of ISIS using Toyotas. Again, it’s simply a matter of circumstance. When I was over in that part of the world, almost every civilian vehicle I drove or rode in was a Toyota—they’re simply what is available in the market. What happens is that most of the cars sold in many regions there are second- or third-hand from other countries, sent in bulk to be sold again to another buyer there. The most popular Toyota over there is the Hilux (or its companion model, the Hilux Surf), which are mid-sized pickups/SUVs that are reliable and useful for many of the roads and much of the terrain in that part of world.  As a result, the Hiluxes just so happen to be great for running ISIS operations, so they became the vehicle of choice for militants there.

Fortunately, Toyota saw fit to discontinue the ISIS last year, so in a few years the car will largely be off the streets of Japan.

I do wonder if in about 5-10 years whether those cars will end up over in Iraq. One can only hope that the other ISIS will be gone by then. After all, if the world has to have one type of ISIS, I’ll take the boring minivan.



Hitting the books once again as a Ph.D. student in Niigata Prefecture. Although I've lived in Japan many years, life as a student in this country is a first.

Blessed Dad. Lucky Husband. Happy Gaijin (most of the time).


  • Candiajia1

    on Jul 23

    I love how you pick up on things so easily! After all... what’s in a name!! By the way, I meant to from last week to say thanks for the mention in your post but by the time I remembered to comment I had no free hands. I really look forward to reading posts from the community and I especially like those from you and your wife. They are very insightful. Even though we are in different neighborhoods, you guys keep me company in the days. Thanks much. :)

  • genkidesuka

    on Jul 23

    @Candiajia1 that’s so sweet of you to say! We feel the same way about you and your posts!