Toyota has had a long career across the globe and today is considered one of the best car manufacturers in the world. But a lot of people don’t know how or where Toyota got its start. Let’s pay tribute to a great carmaker and take a look at the history of Toyota. Toyota is a division of Toyoda Automatic Loom works and was started in 1933. This division is dedicated to the production of motor vehicles and was originally overseen by the founder’s son, Kiichiro Toyoda. Back in 1929 he was traveling around the United States and Europe to investigate the production of automobiles and see how they were made. By 1930 he was diving deep and researching gasoline-powered engines. At the time, there was a war with China and so Japanese government officials were pushing domestic vehicle production and turned to Toyoda Automatic Loom Works as a viable source to get these vehicles produced domestically and take the dependence on other countries for production off the table. Toyoda Automatic Loom Works was happy to take on the challenge and had their first Type A Engine ready to go in 1934. By 1935 these engines were being used in the first G1 trucks and Model A1 passenger cars. They also started producing the Model AA passenger car in 1936. Most people think that these early vehicles look a lot like the Chevrolet and the Dodge Power Wagon; and they probably do because the Toyoda cars actually had some interchanging parts with these American made competitors. Most people don’t know that the Toyota Group to this day is still a textile company that makes automatic looms. These looms now are all digitalized and computerized and they also make electronic sewing machines that are sold all over the world. It’s interesting to see how they were able to jump from looms to vehicles and make a name for themselves in both categories and still maintain stellar success for both. How did they make the switch? When did they go from Toyoda to Toyota? Let’s find out.

The Beginning

They may have started as Toyoda, which is the Kanji rendering of the founding families last name. However in 1937, the Toyota Motor Co. was established as an independent and separate company and the name was changed to a similar name in Kanji that is rendered as Toyota with eight strokes, which is considered a very lucky number in East Asian culture. In some Chinese markets, the company is still referred to by its original Kanji name, even though the American market would never know Toyota as Toyoda.

During WWII and the Pacific War, there was a serious shortage of military trucks, and so the company was dedicated to the production of trucks that were kept as simple as possible. For example, they only had one headlight that was placed right in the center of the hood. After the war ended, Japan was under extreme and difficult economic conditions. The company released its model SA commercial passenger car in 1947. By the end of 1949 the company was on the brink of bankruptcy and financial ruin. They went begging and pleading to a number of banks and were finally able to get some emergency loans but only under the conditions that they eliminate excess manpower and take their sales operation independent. Things still didn’t look that great for the company. By 1950 they were on the verge of going out of business and had only produced 300 trucks. Doing the only thing the management could think of to do, they announced wage reductions and layoffs across the board and the Union was so upset that they went on strike for two months. Eventually they were able to work things out with the Union. They still had layoffs and wage reductions but not before the President, Kiichiro Toyoda was replaced by Taizo Ishida who was the Toyoda Automatic Loom company chief executive.

By the time the Korean War rolled around, the company was revived because they received an order from the United States military for 5,000 vehicles. Taizo Ishida changed his focus and decided to focus on investing in new equipment. One of the key examples of this was the construction in 1959 of the Motomachi Plant that gave Toyota a giant edge over Nissan during the 1960’s. It should also be noted that around this same time Toyota expanded and established different branches of its company, and put a lot of “firsts” into their history books. Toyota Motor Sales Co. was a separate sales company that was established in 1950 and lasted until 1982. The Toyopet dealer chain was established in 1957, the Crown was the first Toyota car that was exported to the United States in 1957. Toyota also established their Brazilian and American divisions, Toyota do Brasil S.A, and Toyota Motor Sales Inc.

Toyota Builds A Global Presence

Toyota really began to expand and take off during the 1960’s. They established partnerships with Diahatsu and Hino Motors, built a new research and development facility, won a Deming Prize, created a presence in Thailand, and made their 10 millionth unit. They had another first by allowing the first car ever to be produced outside of Japan to be built in Melbourne Australia in April of 1963. Australia was Toyota’s very largest export market from 1963 to 1965. But they were shipping cars all over the world by that point and not just Australia. They sent some Toyopet Tiaras to Finland but didn’t have any sales that followed, and they sent 190 Crowns to Denmark to a company named Erla Auto Import A/S of Denmark, and became their first distributer in Denmark in 1963. They supplied Denmark, Norway and Sweden with Crowns. Shortly after in 1964 the Netherlands followed and the domino effect continued and they were able to secure other toeholds in areas that didn’t have their own locally produced vehicle production companies. They even managed to start Salvador Caetano I.M.V.T of Portugal in 1968, which was the first European CKD assembler. By the end of the 1960’s Toyota was a global name and they had even managed to export their one-millionth unit. That was quite a feat considering just a few years earlier they were almost bankrupt and out of business.

Quick Glance Time Line of Toyota Cars

  • Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A. formed Halloween of 1957. Headquartered in Hollywood, Ca. in a former Rambler dealership. First sale in 1958 of one Land Cruiser and 287 Toyopet Crown sedans
  • Toyopet is considered overpriced and underpowered for the American market place and is discontinued in 1961. The company survived on their Land Cruiser sales until they could manufacture a new car in 1965, the Toyota Corona
  • Toyota Corona was the first popular Toyota in America. It was built exactly for this purpose. They were popular with their powerful engines, automatic transmissions and air conditioning. In 1966 they were able to triple the number of sales they were making and were moving more than 20,000 units
  • By 1967 Toyota was the third best selling import brand in America and they became known as sturdy, reliable cars.
  • 1968 Toyota rolls out their new car the Corolla and Americans once again fell in love with this car, like they did the Corona. The Corolla is known as the world best-selling passenger car of all time and has sold over 30 million units in 140 countries
  • 1972 Toyota reaches the milestone of selling their one millionth car
  • 1975 Toyota becomes the number one import brand in the United States and overtook Volkswagen to get that title
  • 1978 Toyota gets the prestigious “Import Triple Crown” award and is recognized for being the favorite import in the United States
  • 1982 Toyota opens a new national sales headquarters complex in Torrance California and celebrates it’s 25th anniversary in the United States
  • 1986 earns Toyota the title of being the first import automaker that made more than one million sales in a single year in the United States
  • 1986 Toyota also start producing cars on American soil which officially makes them an American manufacturer
  • 1986 General Motors and Toyota team up to produce the Corolla FX16 together at the New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc. plant
  • In commemoration of their 30th anniversary in the United States in 1987, they established the Toyota USA Foundation with a $10 million endowment that further progressed their vision to improve communities across the United States
  • 1989 Toyota branched out to the luxury car market by releasing the Lexus LS 400 and ES 250, both cars suddenly made purchasing an outdoor car cover even more important for Toyota lovers. It didn’t take long for Lexus to become known for fabulous luxury cars and great customer service
  • 1991 Lexus easily earns the title of the most imported luxury car in existence, they easily surpassed Mercedes Bens and BMW
  • 1997 the Toyota Camry took the title for the number one top selling car in the United States
  • 1998 was the year that Toyota launched their first full-sized pickup, the Toyota Tundra Pickup Truck
  • 2000 was the year Toyota launched the Prius, which was the world’s first ever gas/electric hybrid that was mass-produced and took the world by storm. The car had a revolutionary design, clean tailpipe emissions and an impressive highway fuel economy of 45 miles per gallon in the city and 51 miles per gallon on the highway. No one had ever quite seen anything like it. It’s still managing impressive sales, year-after-year
  • 2001 Toyota opens a new sales and marketing subsidiary in Mexico called Motor Sales de Mexica. Toyota surpasses Dodge and becomes the third best-selling brand of car in the United States
  • 2002 the first market-ready, zero-emission, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles to customers in California. There were two of these vehicles to choose from and then the next year they unveiled the “Hybrid Synergy Drive”, which was their new breakthrough hybrid technology. They chose to unveil this technology in the form of their new 2004 Prius
  • 2003 Toyota launches it third line of vehicles and launches the Scion line, which focused on younger drivers as their target demographic with three different vehicles with a lot of cool features.
  • 2004 Toyota sells more than two million vehicles in a single year in the United States
  • 2005 Toyota launches a hybrid version of the Toyota Highlander and the Lexus RX 400h, which is the first ever luxury car that was a hybrid
  • 2006 Toyota offers a new hybrid options for the Toyota Camry sedan while also starting construction on a new Kentucky plant the same year and opened the doors on a new San Antonio, Texas plant that was built to exclusively manufacturer pickup trucks. This was their 10th U.S. plant to date. The only vehicle that Toyota has continuously sold for the 50 years they have been in the United States is the Land Cruiser. When they unveiled the FJ Cruiser, which was reminiscent of the Land Cruiser and popular because of its design, their sales skyrocketed to over 2.5 million for the first time ever. Toyota officially solidifies itself as the third best-selling car company in America
  • 2007 Toyota launches their biggest pickup truck to date, the Toyota Tundra. It’s also the 50th anniversary of Toyota being in America. They also launched the first V8 hybrid in the world, the Lexus LS 600th. They also launched their second-generation Scion xB urban utility vehicle
  • 2008 was a rough year for vehicles sales across the board. No one was safe during 2008 and Toyota was no exception. They posted double digit declines in sales because their Tundra pickup sales declined due to a weak US economy because of the massive recession and high fuel prices. They also had shortages of their fuel-efficient vehicles such as the Yaris, Corolla and Prius. They shifted production at some of their facilities in response to the decline to manufacture their in-demand vehicles and they put a hold on their truck production at their truck plants. Even with their slumping sales, they still managed to dominate the markets. The Camry was able to take the number one selling car in America title for the 11th time in 12 years. Toyota also sold more than Chevrolet and earned the title of the top selling car brand in America at the time. They also earned the title of the World’s largest automaker for the first time in history when they surpassed General Motors in terms of global sales
  • 2009 came the introduction of the third-generation Prius, which got an EPA estimated fuel-economy ratio of a whopping 50 miles per gallon in combined driving. Also the Lexus HS 250h was released and it was the first dedicated Lexus hybrid. Lexus also released the V6-powered RX350, the GX 460 luxury utility vehicle and the hybrid RX 450h. By the end of the year they surpassed the one million mark with the combines sales of Toyota in the United States and Lexus hybrids
  • 2010 was a rough year. They suspended sales on of their third-generation Sienna’s and paused their Indiana plant to deal with eight recalled vehicle models that were having potential safety issues of an accelerator pedal that would stick. It didn’t take them long to roll out a fix (by Feb of 2010) but the media coverage and a hearing in front of Congress didn’t help. Toyota ended up having to pay three federal penalties and came to an agreement that was worth more than $1 billion dollars to settle lawsuits. That hurt. Public perception was low and sales slumped by 0.3%. However, Camry was still the number one selling sedan in the United States, Lexus was still the number one luxury brand, and Toyota was still the number one retail brand in America so even with all of these challenges, they were still top dog
  • 2011 was also a trying year. Between a massive tsunami that killed 16,000 people and a 9.0 magnitude earthquake in the Tohoku region of Japan- Toyota lost four production facilities. An additional two production plants were shut down due to massive flooding in Thailand. Because of this, Toyota has expanded production facilities across North America and by the end of 2011 they had 14 plants across North America in Texas, Missouri, Mississippi, West Virginia, Alabama, Tennessee, California, Kentucky and Indiana
  • 2014 Toyota announces a new headquarters to be built and opened in Plano Texas. Toyota also expanded the Michigan Toyota Technical Center (TTC). They also announced that they are going to export over 7,500 Corollas built in Mississippi to 18 different countries throughout the Caribbean, South America and Central America. Also their 10 millionth car was manufactured and exported. At this time four of Toyota’s assembly plants produced nine different cars that are exported to 32 different countries. They also debuted the new RC F Performance Coupe, NX compact crossover, and RC Coupe and also announced future plans to unveil a car that only emits water vapor, can refuel in five minutes or less and can drive at least 300 miles on a single tank of hydrogen
  • 2015 Plano Texas headquarters are officially opened and TTC in Michigan is finished with their expansion and opens. Also introduced the Scion iA and iM, and the Lexus GS Mirai, which all three earned seven J.D. Power vehicle segment awards. Lexus also awarded the highest in vehicle dependability for the fourth year in a row. That’s not all Toyota had planned for the 2015 year. They also announced that they were going to start a new business called the Toyota Research Institute Inc. (TRI), which will be solely dedicated to the development and research of artificial intelligence and robotics. They are going to be located in Silicon Valley near Stanford University, and they will open up a second arm of the company near MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts

Toyota has clearly figured out how to make an amazing brand of vehicles and branch out into other industries that will prove both profitable and groundbreaking. Toyota is synonymous with a safe, reliable, fuel-efficient, good looking vehicle and they have worked hard for that title and it’s a title they deserve. We can’t wait to see what Toyota comes up with next.