a parking lot full of cars

Image credit: Japanese Nostalgic Car.

Welcome To America Toyota

By Paul Reiners Jr

Before we get into Toyota Motors (USA) let’s explore the origins of Toyota as a Japanese automaker. Toyota was founded by Kiichiro Toyoda in 1937. Actually, Kiichiro’s father had a company called Toyota Industries. Kiichiro created Toyota Motors to create automobiles. The Type A engine, developed in 1934, was actually created under his father’s brand. It was the production of the first Toyota AA in 1936 that inspired Kiichiro to spin off Toyota Motors, specifically for automobile production. So why switch from Toyoda to Toyota? In 1936, the company held a design contest for a new logo. The winning design was the 3 Japanese letters for “Toyoda”. However, they preferred the name “Toyota” because in Japanese it required eight brush strokes to write (which is a lucky number for the Japanese). With this name change, in 1937 they officially trademarked the name “Toyota Motor Company”. They newly formed automaker produced their first cars under the model name Toyopet. This odd name was once again a result of a name contest held by Toyota to name the small sized Toyoda SA. Would this childish name stick? Only time would tell.

Toyota Motors enters the United States

Toyota Motors USA was formed in late 1957, in Hollywood, California. The first Toyota to be sold in the USA was the 1958 Toyota Toyopet. In the summer of 1957 the first 2 Toyopet vehicles arrived in port of Los Angeles. At the time one of the very few Japanese cars to ever enter the states.

Toyota’s first attempt in the USA market was a failure

How was the Toyopet for the USA? First Impressions were not great. Early road testing in Los Angeles showed that the Toyopet did not have enough power to get up the hills of LA. It became pretty apparent that the Toyopet was not engineered for America, typically being used as a taxi in Tokyo. Underpowered with a 58 horsepower engine, this 3000 lb pile of metal was also too expensive. And just when you thought it couldn’t be worse, it was. Not only was it uncomfortable and lacking luster, it was also equipped with major mechanical issues. Possibly the only real positive feature I see was a recorded 34.5 mpg during a demonstration performed in Chicago in 1960. Not surprisingly the sales were terrible, and were discontinued in 1961.

Toyota finally finds success in the US market

In 1965 enters the Toyota Corona. No, not the beer. But much like the beer, the Corona became very popular in America. Unlike Toyotas previous flop, the Corona was designed specifically for American drivers. With a more powerful engine, much needed air conditioning and an automatic transmission, Corona was the car Toyota desperately needed. With the new found success, the Corona helped bump U.S. sales of Toyota vehicles in 1966 to more than 20,000 units. Americans began to recognize the reliability and build quality that we all know and love today. With their sudden popularity, Toyota had become the third-best-selling import brand in the United States. Although the Corona is no longer with us, I believe that without this successful popular American inspired creation, Toyota would not have been a thriving business to this day. (At least not in the USA that is.)

The milestone Corolla pushes Toyota forward

In 1968 Toyota introduced the Corolla. Just like the Corona, it was a huge success with American drivers. Still in production today, the Corolla has become the world’s all-time best-selling passenger car, ever. Selling over 30 million units and available in nearly 150 countries, this is an accomplishment to be proud of. With Toyota’s success in the states, they have continued to thrive throughout the years. In 1972 Toyota sold its one-millionth vehicle, and in 1975 finally surpassed Volkswagen to become the No. 1 import brand in the USA. Most people are not aware that Toyota won a Triple Crown, (3 categories) by leading all import brands in sales of cars, trucks and total vehicles.

Toyota Motors and Lexus

In 1989 Toyota took a chance and establishing a luxury brand, Lexus. Lexus started with the debut of the LS 400 and the ES 250. From the very beginning, (unlike early Toyota) Lexus built itself on customer service, luxury, and quality. This business plan quickly became the hallmark of Lexus both then and now. Much like Toyota sought after VW, Lexus was out for blood. In 1991, Lexus became No. 1 luxury import in the United States, beating both Mercedes Benz and BMW.

Toyota goes green

Hybrids and electric cars seem to play a great part in the automobiles future. Like most auto makers, Toyota is no exception. In fact, they seem to be ahead. In 2004, Toyota debuted the Prius featuring Toyota’s new Hybrid Synergy Drive System. In 2005 Toyota introduced the world’s first luxury hybrid, the Lexus RX 400h, and also a hybrid version of the Toyota Highlander. Toyota also added a hybrid option to the Camry 2006. Is the future still looking good as a result of an economic recession? Toyota’s sales were down in 2008 but were still the best selling automotive brand in America. Not to mention the Camry became the top selling car for the 11th time. The HS 250h is their pure hybrid model. For this, Toyota Motors received an environmental achievement award from the EPA’s Pacific Southwest Region Office. Recently, Lexus unveiled their 2013 GS 350, GS 450h and GS 350 F SPORT with the bold new restyling of Lexus.

Toyota speeds into the future

In 2010 Lexus debuted the LF-A Supercar. This monster $375,000 monster packed a 4.8 Liter v10 553 horsepower motor. An even more expensive ($445,000) track version debuted in 2012. Unfortunately in December 2012, production ended with only 500 built. The future and capability of Toyota can truly be shown in this vehicle alone. Although this success, the future can’t be relied on a “rich market”. Toyota is scheduled to debut newly refined and designed cars throughout the 2013-2015 model years as of now. Below are a few key models to keep an eye out for.

Avalon: A sportier redesign is expected this fall, with a shorter front and rear profile. More technology is set to be added, as well as some weight loss.

Prius: Scheduled for a full redesign in 2014. The miniaturizing and weight reduction of components used in the Prius C will help for lighter and more efficient Prius.

Venza: Scheduled to be redesigned in 2015.

Rav4: The redesign was recently unveiled. The optional 3.5-liter V6 made the current RAV4 I said to be over powered. The 2014 model will mostly likely only come with the 2.5 liter. The focus will be on weight reduction and aerodynamics for fuel efficiency.

Corolla: Scheduled to be redesigned in the fall of 2013. A more stylish interior is set to debut, as well as a new transmission and gearing designed to improve fuel economy.

Highlander: A redesign is scheduled for fall of this year off the new Camry platform. A hybrid powertrain, as well as a four and six cylinder will remain.

Sequoia: Scheduled for redesign in 2014.

Tacoma: Scheduled for a 2014 redesign to meet safety standards, focusing on weight loss and aerodynamics.