Toyota is arguably the number one automobile maker in the world. It started importing cars through Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Inc., which was established late in 1957. Times and products have changed greatly since those early years, and Toyota has become the poster child for business success worldwide.
Kiichiro Toyoda, of Toyoda Automatic Loom Works Company (Japan), visited Europe and the United States in 1929 to investigate the automobile industry. A year later, research formally began on gasoline-powered engines, and prototypes for a passenger sedan and truck were developed in 1935.
Toyota Motor Company, Ltd. was established in Japan in 1937. The new name Toyota was simpler to write in Japanese characters. Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Inc. was founded in Hollywood, California, on October 31, 1957, and vehicle sales got off to a disappointing start.
Two products were offered for model-year 1958: the Toyopet sedan and the Land Cruiser. The latter would eventually become a successful product, but the sedan was an outright failure.
Toyopet utilized sheet metal 50% thicker than American vehicles, making the import extremely heavy. The 65 horsepower, 4-cylinder engine was completely inadequate to motivate the vehicle on American roads, and to no one’s surprise, sales were dismal for the over-priced sedan.
Things were tough for those first Toyota retail dealerships (21 in 1958). After selling a total of 2,314 Toyopets, Toyota launched the Corona sedan in 1965. The following year would be the start of remarkable success in the automotive industry. Toyota would eventually surpass Volkswagen as the number one import vehicle in 1975.
Many products over the years would help the automaker achieve its top status. The Corolla, introduced to America in 1968, would become the world’s best-selling car—selling more than 30 million to date. Corona’s replacement in 1983, the Camry has been the best-selling car in America for nine of the last ten years. Toyota vehicles have a reputation for great design, high build quality, and reliability. Research and Development have produced mechanical innovations on the cutting edge of the industry. For example, the Toyota Hybrid System powers not only the best-selling Prius but hybrid vehicles produced by Ford and Nissan.
Taking a page out of Ford’s success story, Toyota has become renowned for the way it makes its vehicles. The Toyota Production System has become the gold standard in manufacturing. Toyota operates ten vehicle and parts plants throughout the U.S., with plans for five more in the next three years. Toyota directly employs more than 34,675 Americans and has contributed more than $15 billion to the U.S. economy.
Of course, the marque now includes the luxury brand Lexus, as well as youth-oriented Scion, launched in 1989 and 2002, respectively. They all live by the concept of constant improvement and show no sign of letting up.