Eiji Toyoda, architect of the “lean manufacturing” method helped turned the automaker Toyota, into a global powerhouse and changed the face of modern manufacturing.
'In almost six decades with the company he helped transform a tiny spinoff of a textile loom maker into the world’s biggest automaker. Early on, he helped put Toyota at the forefront of a wave of automobile production in Japan, pushing it to bolster its lineup, first by adding compact vehicles and sports cars in the 1960s and 1970s. In the 1980s he initiated the development of luxury models to compete with the likes of Mercedes-Benz and BMW, culminating with the Lexus brand in 1989.'
'In 1950 he set out on what would turn out to be a pivotal three-month tour to survey Ford’s Rouge plant in Detroit, then the largest and most efficient factory in the world. Before the war, the military government prevented Toyota from building passenger cars, compelling it to make trucks for Japan’s war effort instead.
By 1950, Toyota had produced just 2,685 automobiles, compared with the 7,000 vehicles the Rouge plant was rolling out in a single day, according to “The Machine That Changed the World,” a 1990 study by James P. Womack, Daniel T. Jones and Daniel Roos.
Mr. Toyoda was unfazed, writing back to headquarters that he “thought there were some possibilities to improve the production system.” He brought back a thick booklet that outlined some of Ford’s quality-control methods; the company translated it into Japanese, changing “Ford” to “Toyota” in all references.'
'Toyota entered the American market after an executive, Shotaro Kamiya
, visited the U.S. in the mid-1950s and noted sales of the Volkswagen Beetle, the most popular import car at the time.
Kamiya went back to Japan and with Toyoda developed the plan to crack the U.S. market, importing the first cars in August 1957.
They pinned their strategy on a sluggish, barren, four-door sedan called the Toyopet Crown, a car Toyoda had developed. But it wasn’t very good by American standards. The first Toyotas sold in the U.S. handled poorly when driven over 60 mph and tended to overheat in the mountains or desert. Toyota's U.S. sales in its first year were meager with just 288 vehicles.
Toyoda quickly realized that his Toyopet was not good enough to attract American buyers.
He told his sales force to focus on the Jeep-like Land Cruiser until Toyota could launch its Corona sedan in 1965. Although still a small car, the Corona addressed the problems that were evident in the Toyopet and became the automaker’s first big seller in the U.S.
By 1972, Toyota passed Volkswagen to become the top import brand in America. The automaker has sold more that 1.5 million Toyota, Lexus and Scion here through the first eight months of this year and controls more than 14% of the market.
By the late 1960s another Toyoda project, the Corolla, had developed a U.S. reputation for reliability, low cost and fuel efficiency. '
'He also oversaw Toyota’s development of Lexus
, approving development of the luxury car in 1983 to compete with Mercedes-Benz and Bayerische Motoren Werke AG’s BMW. The first vehicle, the LS 400, went on sale in the U.S. in 1989.'