Toyota's longest-serving president, Eiji, Toyoda, has died of heart failure. Toyoda, was the younger cousin of Toyota Motor Corp. founder and is credited with Toyota's expansion in the United States.
His career as president began with reshaping the company from making Chevrolet knockoffs to an auto manufacturer whose efficiency became envied by General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. Throughout his 57-year career, the company began manufacturing Toyota Corollas in the U.S., started the luxury brand Lexus and initiated a project for the world's most successful gas-electric vehicle - the Toyota Prius.
"He played an important role in leading Toyota's expansion into North America, and in developing the carmaker into a global company," Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Youshihide Suga said at a press conference in Tokyo. "He was someone who was indispensable to the nation."
Toyoda began working at the company in central Japan's Toyota City. In the 69 years he worked there, Toyota rose from assembling cars out of GM parts to being 16 times more valuable than the Detroit-based automaker. Mass production of automobiles was stressed by Toyoda, who pushed his company to learn from Ford and GM.
In 1967 Toyoda became president of Toyota Motor Co., serving for 15 years. Then in 1982, Toyota Motor and Toyota Motor Sales Co. merged to form Toyota Motor Corp. At that time, Toyota became chairman of the combined company. Upon retirement in 1992, Toyoda was made an honorary chairman and kept the title of honorary adviser.
Under his direction, Toyota set up 10 new factories, began exporting to multiple countries, instituted just-in-time production, all while establishing a reputation for manufacturing excellence. Toyoda's manufacturing concepts would become central to Toyota's production methods. These methods include kaizen- continuous improvement, and jidoka- the use of machines that shutdown was irregularities are detected.
Toyoda laid the foundation for the company to take its manufacturing expertise overseas. In 1983, a year after his cousin Shoiciro became president; Toyota formed its first venture in the U.S., in partnership with GM. New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. began production in 1984 in Fremont, CA. The venture proved Toyota's manufacturing principles could be used across different cultures, leading the company to build independent plants in Kentucky, England and France.
During Toyoda's reign, he oversaw the formation of the Lexus brand and approved development of the luxury car in 1983. The first Lexus vehicle, the Lexus LS 400, went on sale in the U.S. in 1989 competing with Mercedes-Benz and BMW.
After stepping down from his position, Toyoda still came into the office to consult with his successors. He also took on other roles such as chairing the company's commemorative museum.
In 1994, Toyoda was inducted into the U.S. Automotive Hall of Fame. He is the second honoree after Soichiro Honda.
"As a member of the automobile industry, this is indeed a great moment for me," he said in a statement upon his induction. "Ever since Toyota's establishment in 1937, I have been involved in this wonder 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 was born on September 12, 1913. He grew up inside his father's textile mill in Nagoya, learning from an early age about machines and business.
In 1936 he graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Tokyo and began working for his uncle at Toyoda Automatic Loom Works Ltd. His uncle, Sakichi Toyoda, was an inventor who created a weaving loom that automatically shut off when a piece of fabric broke. Sakichi's son, Kiichiro was head of the automobile division and in 1937, founded Toyota Motor and took his cousin with him.
Toyoda began on the factory floor before being promoted to production planning and director. From the beginning, he was given freedom to explore his interests ranging from fixing cars to establishing the company headquarters in Toyota City. In 1945 he became a director.
Discussions were held between Toyota and Ford regarding jointly making cars in the U.S. Contact was interrupted after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. After World War II, talks resumed between the two automakers but never lead anywhere. Then in 1950 the U.S. Army sent Toyoda to Dearborn, MI to learn about mass production from Ford. The U.S. needed Toyota to build trucks for its troops in Korea.
Toyoda observed Ford, although much larger, was barely ahead of Toyota in its technology. Upon returning to Japan, he focused on creating cars in smaller batches at maximum efficiency. Building on the work of his cousin, Toyota established the Toyota Production System. The system, which aimed to eliminate excess inventory, became so successful it was adopted by other car makers and manufacturers outside the industry.
Toyoda is survived by his eldest son Kanshiro.