Sakichi Toyoda, whose textile machinery company spawned the Toyota Motor Corporation, is born in Japan on February 14, 1867. In 2008, Toyota surpassed the American auto giant General Motors (GM) to become the world's largest automaker.
Referred to as Japan's Thomas Edison, Sakichi Toyoda invented a variety of weaving machines, including an automatic power loom, and founded Toyoda Automatic Loom Works. By the late 1920s, Toyoda's son Kiichiro, who worked for the family business, had begun plans, with his father's support, to develop an automobile. Sakichi Toyoda died on October 30, 1930, at the age of 63. In 1933, Kiichiro Toyoda established an auto division within Toyoda Loom Works, which released a prototype vehicle two years later. In 1937, Toyota Motor Corporation was formed as a spinoff of Toyoda Loom Works. ("Toyota" was reportedly considered a luckier name than "Toyoda" and is easier to write in Japanese characters).
The new car company initially looked to the U.S. auto industry for inspiration. According to The New York Times: "Over the years of its rise to the top, Toyota has made no secret of how much it has learned from Detroit. Its first car, the AA, was a blatant copy of (or an homage to) a Chevrolet sedan. Its executives scoured every corner of the Ford Motor Company in the 1950s, taking home ideas to Japan that later inspired the Toyota Production System."
Kiichiro Toyoda died in 1952 at the age of 57, but his company continued to grow. In 1966, Toyota introduced its compact Corolla model, which in 1997 became the world's best-selling car, with more than 35 million sold at the time. The oil crisis of the 1970s made Toyota's small, fuel-efficient vehicles increasingly attractive in America. In the 1980s, the automaker launched the popular Camry and 4Runner sport utility vehicle. Toyota's luxury car line, Lexus, debuted in the U.S. in 1989. The automaker introduced the planet's first mass-produced hybrid vehicle, the Prius, in 1997 in Japan and worldwide in 2001. By the end of the 1990s, Toyota had produced over 100 million vehicles in Japan.
In 2008, Toyota reached another milestone when it sold more cars and trucks than General Motors--8.97 million vehicles versus 8.35 million vehicles--and claimed the sales crown that the American auto giant had held for more than 70 years. However, Toyota, like the rest of the auto industry, was hurt by the global financial crisis and in May 2009 reported the company's first-ever annual loss.