Sadly we live in an age where many great men and women of the twentieth century are becoming just memories with fine legacies left behind, and yesterday I learned of another great man of the motor industry departing the world.
Eiji Toyoda was president of Toyota from 1967 until 1982, after which he became chairman until 1994. Toyoda was intrinsic in ambitiously pushing the company forward in an expansion that would ultimately culminate in seeing Toyota become one of the biggest car manufacturers in the world.
Toyoda, who had just celebrated his 100th birthday on 12th September this year, studied mechanical engineering in Tokyo during the early thirties before moving into the car industry. The seeds of his ambitions for Toyota may well have been planted during his visit to the USA to look at the Ford plant in Michigan in the 1950s. While impressed by the size of the plant, he was less impressed by what he thought of as the inefficiencies of the plant’s manufacturing process.
Toyoda had a dilemma though, while he saw the Michigan plant on one level as inefficient, it was steadily producing 8,000 vehicles each day in comparison with Toyota’s total of 2,500 vehicles in its 13-year history.
Toyoda put into action a series of innovative ideas to bring Toyota up to a similar level of output as the Ford factory. The simple sounding idea of labelling product parts in the factories to reduce confusion and the adoption of the very Japanese ‘kaizen’ (‘good change’) way of making constant small improvements to the production process from start to finish came to be known as the ‘Toyota Way’. It’s a process much adopted since, and on paper tends to baulk at the rather British idea of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’.
Eiji Toyoda had plans to get Toyota established in the lucrative American market, it’s very likely he first realised how important this would be to the company’s success and ambition following his visit to the Ford Michigan factory – the size of the plant and its output had certainly left an impression.
After a failed attempt with the Toyota Crown, which was generally considered to be somewhat underpowered for the gas-guzzling American market, the company finally managed to make their mark with the Toyota Corolla in the late sixties. In fact the Corolla had become the best selling car in the world by 1974 and in July this year Corolla reached the impressive landmark of a worldwide sales figure of 40 million.
It could be said that Toyoda left his final mark on Toyota with the wise plan to move the company into the luxury car market, culminating in the hugely popular Lexus sub-brand, now Japan’s biggest luxury automobile maker.
From humble loom maker, to one of Japan’s most respected and known businessmen, Toyoda leaves behind three sons who have all followed their father’s footsteps into the motor industry.
Images – hemmings.com, i.ndtvimg.com
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