Eiji Toyoda, Toyota Patriarch, Prime Mover, Dies At 100

Eiji Toyoda, who led Toyota’s charge into the U.S. market while he was president of Toyota Motor from 1967 to 1981 and still held the title of “ultimate adviser” when he died of heart failure at 100 in Tokyo City yesterday, “nurtured international ambitions for his cars at a time when Japan was still derided as a flogger of cheap radios,” as Jonathan Soble writes in Financial Times.

He “almost singlehandedly launched the car manufacturer into being the global automotive giants they are,” John Hofilena observes in Japan Daily Press.

Toyota first attempted to crack the U.S. market in the late 1950s but failed because its Toyopet Crown was an “underpowered, underperforming rattletrap” in the words ofAutoweek’s Graham Kozak. Only a few hundred vehicles were sold, and it “had disappeared from North American markets by 1960.” Then, reportedly against both conventional wisdom and the advice of some of his executives, Toyoda introduced the Corolla to the U.S. in 1968. It went on to become the best-selling automobile of all time, Soble reports



Toyoda also “bucked skeptics who believed that a Japanese automaker couldn’t create a luxury brand, by pushing Toyota into the bigger, more expensive vehicles that became the Lexus line in 1989,” Jerry Hirsch writes in the Los Angeles Times. “Toyoda wanted to sell a car that could rival the big German luxury sedans produced by Mercedes-Benz and BMW.”

He also was a prime mover for the vaunted Toyota production system, which was developed by Taiichi Ohno, after he observed a Ford plant in 1950 that was then the “most efficient” factory in the world and decided that it could be improved upon, Hiroko Tabuchi reports in the New York Times

“Even as he aggressively expanded production at Toyota, Mr. Toyoda applied a manufacturing culture based on concepts like ‘kaizen,’ a commitment to continuous improvements suggested by the workers themselves, and just-in-time production, a tireless effort to eliminate waste,” Tabuchi writes. “Those ideas became a core part of what came to be called the Toyota Production System and a corporate ethos known as the Toyota Way.”

“During his 25 years at the helm,” writes Noah Joseph on AOL’s Auto Blog, he also “was credited with establishing the company's headquarters in Toyota City [and] spearheading the development of the Prius,” among his other accomplishments.

Toyoda was graduated from the University of Tokyo with a degree in mechanical engineering and joined Toyoda Automatic Loom Works in 1936, according to an AP dispatch in the Washington Post

Toyoda was a cousin of Kiichiro Toyoda, who transitioned Toyoda Loom Works, which was founded by his father, into automobile production in the mid-1930s. Kiichiro resigned in 1950 “after business setbacks forced Toyota to split into manufacturing and sales companies that operated under non-family leadership,” Yoshio Takahashi and Chester Dawson report in the Wall Street Journal, and died two years later.

The Toyoda family had “changed the company name to Toyota in 1936 mainly for marketing reasons -- believing it sounded crisper and more modern than the fairly common family name,” Takahashi and Dawson write.

Eiji Toyoda became chairman of Toyota in 1982, a position he held for a decade when Shoichiro Toyoda, son of the founder and currently honorary chairman, succeeded him as CEO of the reunited company. He served as honorary chairman until 1999, when he assumed the “ceremonial” title he held at his death. Shoichiro 's son, Akio Toyoda, is Toyota's president and CEO at present. 

Among the many international awards and citations listed for Toyoda in a company release is his “induction into the Automotive Hall of Fame, Michigan, U.S.A., 1994.” He was the second honoree from Japan, after Soichiro Honda, according to Bloomberg’s Kae Inoue, Anna Mukai and Yuki Hagiwar.

“As a member of the automobile industry, this is indeed a great moment for me,” he said at the time. “Ever since Toyota’s establishment in 1937, I have been involved in this wonderful business, and as long as my engine keeps running, I intend to give back as much as I can for the industry’s further development.”

Toyoda’s wife, Kazuko, died in 2002. Three sons survive him and run businesses in the Toyota family. Kanshiro is chairman of Aisin Seiki Co. Tetsuro is chairman of Toyota Industries Corp. Shuhei is president of Toyota Boshoku Corp. Services will be private.

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