Kiichiro Toyoda, founder of the Toyota Motor Corporation, which in 2008 surpassed America’s General Motors as the world’s largest automaker, dies at the age of 57 in Japan on March 27, 1952.
Toyoda was born in Japan on June 11, 1894. His father Sakichi Toyoda was an inventor of textile machinery, including an automatic loom, and founded Toyoda Loom Works. (People called him “Japan’s Thomas Edison.”) By the late 1920s, Kiichiro Toyoda, who worked for his father’s company, had begun plans 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, 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 compact car 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.