Wow, did you know Toyota has been selling cars in America for 60 years? Me either. I’m not sure whether it seems longer than that, or shorter. One way or another, here we are. And what started out with the Toyopet Crown eventually led to all sorts of goodies; from ultra-dependable trucks to performance-centric Supras beloved by gearheads.
Toyota starts off its celebrations with this passage straight out of a Raymond Chandler noir detective novel: “When Toyota launched its North American headquarters in a Hollywood, California dealership on October 31, 1957, it was, no doubt, a frightening affair.” But that’s about as pulpy as it gets. For Toyota, there’s no gunsels with heaters, dames with gams that go on for days, or laughing fat men that know the score; just lots of cars, trucks, and profits. Boatloads of profits.
Rolling The Dice
Like I said, for Toyota in America, it all started with the Toyopet Crown, which the company flat out admits “didn’t turn out to be a screaming success.” But since leading off with a less-than-impressive car in a 3,000 square foot, one-time Rambler dealership (Bonus points if you know what a Rambler is. More bonus points if you’ve ever driven a Rambler. And even more bonus points if you’ve ever worked on one. Hint: I’ve done all three), Toyota has intertwined their products into the structure of every day American life. And now, 60 years later, Toyota has grown very far indeed beyond that humble Hollywood dealership. Sales locations in every state, 10 manufacturing facilities, almost 1,500 Toyota and Lexus dealerships, and 136,000 U.S. employees. Yeah, you can say that Toyota’s sixty-year-old bet paid off.
To mark its 60th anniversary, Toyota moved and rededicated its 50th anniversary time capsule from its former Torrance, California headquarters to their new HQ in Plano, Texas. The capsule included goodies like a 2000GT – that would be a Matchbox die cast, not the real thing (perish the thought, 2KGTs are into the seven figures now), an original key for a 1977 Toyota Hilux truck, and a scale model of Toyota’s Formula One racer. The new time capsule will be re-opened on the company’s 100th anniversary in 2057.
Toyota makes no bones about the fact they got to where they are in the American market because of their cars. Sure, the 1950s had that questionable Toyopet Crown, but it also saw the launch of the now-legendary Land Cruiser. The ’60s saw the introduction of the Corolla, a car so wildly successful it became one of the best-selling nameplates in the world. The ’70s got the Celica which spawned the Supra spinoff (blessed be its horsepower, torque, and terminal velocity). The ’80s brought us the 4Runner and the Camry, an automotive equivalent of a beige anvil: as inoffensive as it was indestructible.
By the early ’90s, Toyota had branched into the luxury market with Lexus, and then introduced the Tacoma pickup, RAV4, Avalon, and Sienna, with the Lexus GS, LX, and RX. The new century saw an entry market spin-off division, Scion. And let us not forget Toyota are the folks responsible for the Prius.
Toyota was shrewd about how they achieved success in North America, and cites the 1970s as a particularly critical time. That was when Toyota opened design and manufacturing facilities here in the U.S., rather than keeping them all in Japan. Its first U.S. production was with Atlas Fabricators of Long Beach to make truck beds. The ’70s also saw the opening of the Toyota Technical Center (which just celebrated its 40th anniversary in May), the opening of their U.S. R&D facility, and the opening of Calty Design Research in Southern California.
Since then, there have been full-blown manufacturing facilities opened in California and Kentucky, along with the addition of Toyota Motor Credit Corporation. Further manufacturing expansions saw vehicle and parts plants in Indiana, West Virginia, Alabama, Tennessee, Texas, Missouri, and Mississippi.
What’s next? More high-tech stuff, of course. The Toyota Research Institute continues to explore the possibilities with autonomous vehicles, robotics, vehicle safety, and materials science. And just last year, Toyota Connected was created to use data to personalize the customer driving experience.
“Celebrating our anniversary isn’t just about the products we’ve sold the past 60 years,” said Jim Lentz, Chief Executive Officer, Toyota Motor North America. “It’s also about celebrating Toyota’s thousands of employees who will help the company embark on the next leg of its American journey and continuing to improve our products and services for our customers.”
Tony Borroz has spent his entire life racing antique and sports cars. He means well, even if he has a bias toward lighter, agile cars rather than big engine muscle cars or family sedans.