Akamatsu’s true founding date is lost to history, but the oldest concrete date is sometime in 1791 in Fukuoka in a joint venture between two merchants, Tatsuro Akamura (1748-1809) and Toyotomi Kagoshima (17??-1828). Akamatsu began production of handcrafted tools and weapons under the name until Akamura’s mysterious disappearance in 1809. Kagoshima continued to run Akamatsu’s growing business and reputation for high quality tools until he was murdered by in 1828 by an unknown assailant, likely Masaharu Ōkawa (1766-1829), a long term business rival. Ōkawa was beheaded for the murder in 1829, although his role as the murderer is largely disputed and there is no concrete proof of him being the culprit.
How Akamatsu gained it’s status as “The Dragon”.
Akamatsu has long been nicknamed “The Dragon”, according to a company legend, Toyotomi Kagoshima once saw a Dragon sleeping in his workshop shortly after Akamura, his co-founder, had died. Kagoshima believed that this Dragon, which he had now disturbed and angered, was the reincarnation of his co-founder and friend. So from that day, all Akamatsu-made tools and weapons were given intricate Dragon-based designs on grips and on longbows in order to honour Akamura.
This legend is most likely false, as Dragons have not been proven to exist outside of legend and folklore.
After the Accolade was released, it was given the nickname “The Dragon”, for it’s aggressive driving dynamics and tendency to kill. Based on the Dragon Kagoshima allegedly saw almost 200 years before. Since 1968, this nickname has stuck extremely well, and continues to be used in advertising, and as of 1971, a Dragon appears on Akamatsu’s logo and badges.
Korean Ownership Period and early to mid 20th Century
From 1828 to 1901, Akamatsu was owned by the Lee Family, a family of Korean immigrants. Leadership under the first son, Lee il-Yeh (1829-1900) was widely considered one of the best periods of growth and development in Akamatsu’s history, followed by the less successful leadership of Lee il-Eun (1865-1919). Il-Eun had no children, and continued to lead Akamatsu into the 20th century until his rapidly deteriorating eyesight forced him to retire, and was succeeded by Taro Yukohana (1887-1956), a Japanese entrepreneur who went on to lead Akamatsu to produce military equipment and vehicles (Such as tanks and aircraft) in both World War I and II.
After World War II, Akamatsu was under ownership by the Japanese Government until 1954. In 1968, the Accolade debuted at the 1968 Tokyo Motor Show, the beginning of Akamatsu’s most iconic series of cars. Due to the mysterious pretenses surrounding Akamura’s death, it is rumored that the Accolade embodies Akamura’s supposed anger, but this, like all theories surrounding Akamatsu’s tendancy for mystery, is unproven.
"Misfortune of Akamura." Curse
It has since become an urban legend among employees that the spirit of Akamura haunts any employee who dares dishonour or defect from Akamatsu, and is colloquially known as the “Misfortune of Akamura.”, most employees who had supposedly angered Akamura’s spirit experienced constant misfortunes and an impending sense of dread.
1975 Disappearance of Konishi and Kukohara.
The most famous case of the supposed curse documents the 1975 disappearance and death of two former employees, Hajime Kukohara (1942-1975) and Makoto Konishi (1957-1975) after Kukohara quit his job at Akamatsu in order to persue an oppourtunity at Akamatsu’s biggest competitor, Torrento. Kukohara suddenly collapsed and died on July 11th, 1975 from a currently unknown illness. Konishi, a teenage metal apprentice, also left his apprenticeship to persue an unknown lucrative job offer in Taiwan, but his flight (Hakone Airways Flight 979) mysteriously disappeared on the night of July 14th, 1975 over the East China Sea. He, nor any of the 164 other passengers and 11 crew were ever recovered.
Many suspect that Kukohara had died of an illness he was struck with by Akamura’s spirit, whereas others say he died of a conventional heart attack. The theory behind Konishi’s ill-fated flight was that it had crashed into the East China Sea, none of these theories have ever been proven true.
Foundation of the Akamatsu Group
Akamatsu Motor was incorporated into the newly founded Akamatsu Group in 1985, and then a subsidiary in 1989. Since the end of World War II, Akamatsu has had a long and fierce rivalry with it’s biggest NA Market competitor, Torrento Automotive, and although this rivalry appears bitter, it is actually quite friendly.
1987 Taesong Manufacturing Plant collapse
In April 1980, a new factory was constructed in the city of Daegu, South Korea by then chairman of Akamatsu of Korea, Chung Woo-Hyun. This factory, Taesong Manufacturing Plant, was originally planned to be much smaller than it’s completed size, but in order to increase production, the original blueprints were modified to enlarge the plant at the cost of removing some of the structurally integral pylons and building supports. By February 1983, Taesong had been completed, with 1,780 workers hired to staff the plant.
In June 1984, cracks began to appear in the rushed fourth floor of the main building, which was not included in the original plans for the building, and the already existing pylons were not designed to withstand more than 3 floors worth of weight. These concerns were ignored by both Hyun and the Taesong Plant Managers.
By December 1986, the cracks had grown to be seen from the third floor of the building and stretched from the east side to nearly the centre of the floor, management continued to ignore this issue and instructed workers to continue production.
On February 8th, 1987 at approximately 7:58PM KST, the 4th floor suddenly buckled under the weight of the approximately 580 employees on that floor at the time, due to the floor’s thickness being reduced from 36" down to 21" to save costs on building the 4th floor. The debris’ weight then collapsed the 3rd and 2nd floors downwards, before resting at the 1st and Ground floors. Of the 1560 employees on site at the time of the collapse, 484 died and 1051 were injured, 412 of those were critically injured, making the collapse the deadliest structural failure in South Korea, before being surpassed by the Sampoong Department Store Collapse in 1995.
In the months after the collapse, 5 of the Taesong Plant Managers (Kyung Seong Woo, Kim Il-Dong, Choi Yong-bol, Jin Guangling and Fung Haocheng) all pleaded guilty for corruption, greed, neglect and accidental manslaughter. Chung Woo-Hyun was dismissed from his position and later sentenced to 8 years for his connection to the collapse of Taesong, however, Hyun only served 3 years of his sentence. He was released from prison in 1991 and died in 2007 from lung cancer, 20 years after the disaster. In a 2001 interview, Hyun expressed “deep regret and shame” when recounting his lack of actions undertaken that could’ve prevented the collapse.
Guangling and Haocheng, the two Chinese managers sent to oversee the plant were recalled shortly after the trial and flew back to Guangzhou without serving their sentences of 2 and 5 years respectively, instead paying fines of 5.8m CNY (About $910,000 USD). A 1990 request by the South Korean court to extradite them to South Korea to serve their sentences was also denied. Guangling is now retired at the age of 82, Haocheng died in his sleep in 2015 at the age of 86. Both men denied responsibility, blaming the collapse on the “unacceptable” lack of competence from the South Korean managers.
Seong Woo, Yong-bol and Il-Dong all disputed this claim as being “nonsense from a pair of bitter, upstart foreigners”. Seong-bok, in a 2007 interview stated that he “regretted my choice to do nothing” but that “Their [Guangling and Haocheng] claim of innocence is a lie and that they were no less guilty than myself, to claim such innocence makes them even lower than their own dogs.”. Yong-bol, laden with guilt, took his own life in 1998, aged just 46. Il-Dong died of complications after a heart surgery in 2012, aged 61. Leaving Seong-Woo as the only currently surviving Korean manager.
In December 1987, demolition of the remains of Taesong was completed, and was replaced by the Seongnam Motor Plant, which completed construction in 1992 and is still currently in use. There is a monument on the Seongnam site to the 484 who died in the Taesong Collapse.
As of 2022, Akamatsu is a leading example of how to create harmony between workers and management, hires are made on a balance between efficiency and cooperation with an employee’s peers and superiors, and a great deal of honour is emphasised among employees, along with regulations of manager treatment of employees. These standards have lead to higher worker morale and cooperation, and are the set standard for employee-manager relations in the workplace within most companies.
The current lineup for the 2022 model year includes the Andromeda as the flagship vehicle, Protera as one of the last full sports coupes still available, as well as the Axion for Australian markets, and the Fuji and Everon rounding out a full range. Production is based mainly in Japan at Fukuoka, Mie, Saitama and Miyagi, Malaysia at Kuala Lumpur and Penang, South Korea at Seoul, Daegu and Gwangju, Romania at Bucharest and the United States at San Jose, Sacramento, Ft. Worth, Madison and Springfield.
The automotive division and its subsidiaries is the largest vehicle manufacturer in Asia, and the second largest in the world, behind Torrento Automotive and it’s parent company, Torrento Industries.
In 2022, Akamatsu announced it would be closing it’s Chelyabinsk, Saratov, Odessa, Kyiv and Kharkiv factories in Russia and Ukraine until further notice following the outbreak of the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, and subsequently pulled out of the Eastern European market.
Since 1990, Akamatsu and it’s racing crew, Akamatsu World Rally Team, has mainly focused on Group A and N rally, participating in the 2000 WRC season with a 4WD Nebula III, entered in 11/14 rallies during the season, placing 1st overall in the Manufacturer’s Championship. The success in WRC was achieved by ceding the asphalt to Torrento. Ever since, Akamatsu has consistently placed 1st and 2nd in most WRC’s entered, save for the 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2016 seasons, which were not entered to focus on F1, then WTCR.
Since 2016, Akamatsu has solely focused on rally, thus being the only motorsports category Torrento has not attempted to compete in, although this could be challenged within the next few years with Torrento furthering the Haro line of hatchbacks tailored for rallying.
Currently, Akamatsu Motor is divided into local, region based subsidiaries, including a joint venture with Guangzhou-based motor factory. Wuchang, and it’s state owned motor companies, Wuchang and Guangqi, producing Akamatsu’s locally and then rebadged as local Wuchang or Guangqi models.
Head of Akamatsu Motor Co. Ltd. - Tatsurō Tagama (Fukuoka, Japan)
Akamatsu Korea Ltd. - Headed by Park il-Seong (Seoul, South Korea)
Akamatsu of SE Asia Ltd. - Headed by Yao Hsien Soong (Singapore, Republic of Singapore)
Wuchang-Akamatsu Manufacturing Co. Ltd. - Headed by Tao Chang-Yi (Guangzhou, China)
Akamatsu Europe GMbH - Headed by Hans Schönenfeld (Cologne, Germany)
Akamatsu of Great Britain Ltd. - Headed by Nigel Crest (London, United Kingdom)
Akamatsu of Canada Inc. - Headed by David Black (Vancouver, Canada)
Akamatsu of America Inc. - Headed by Mitchell Moran (Sacramento, USA)
Akamatsu of Australia pty. Ltd. - Headed by Ian Kelly (Melbourne, Australia)
Akamatsu of Latin America - Headed by Juan Alvaréz Toncontés (Buenos Aires, Argentina)
Aciishi Commercial Group - Medium and Large Commercial vehicle manufacturer
Yugami-Akamatsu - Military equipment manufacturer, exclusively produces tanks and artillery for the Japan Self-Defense Forces,
Fukuoka Aerospace Ltd. - Aircraft Division
Akamatsu Medical Group - Hopsital and Paramedic Equipment manufacturer
Isakawa-Daiichi Steelworks - Steel producer and Mech manufacturer
Hakama Nuclear (1970-2002) - Nuclear Power provider, sold to a Finnish energy company in 2002.