Toyota After World War II

Toyota: The resurrection

After September 1945, Japan is under US tutelage. The plants are partly destroyed and raw materials lacking. The manufacturing program imposed by the occupant concerns only commercial vehicles, which the country badly needs for reconstruction. Out of 10,000 employees who used to work for Toyota in 1939, only 3,700 can get their job back. In order to survive, the company is even reduced to plant corn on land adjacent to the plant. But the Japanese are quick to get back on their feet. In 1946, 5,821 trucks get out of production lines. Kichiro Toyoda now wants to build a new vehicle that uses less gasoline in view of the existing shortage. Thus in 1947 appears the "Toyopet" a 4-cylinder engine of 1 liter modeled on the former German Adler but with a two doors frame which looks like the Volkswagen. The SA (Toyopet) develops 27 hp and barely reaches 85km/h.

The toyopet, 1947
toyota 2-door sedan 27 hp

Several small models will then be produced but in 1950, Toyota nearly goes bankrupt. Massive layoffs are done and strikes break out everywhere. Kichiro Toyoda prefer to resign and in April 1950, the company Toyota Motor Sales is formed from the remains of the old company. The lack of a reliable distribution network is one of the reasons that led to the 1950 disaster, so a network of car dealers is created to ensure the dissemination and promotion of the vehicles. But the production of the Toyopet has to be stopped after only 215 cars, and other models have little success. Cars are still a luxury item that few Japanese can afford; instead, they purchase scooters, motorcycles and small three wheeled.vans. Mazda and Honda are experts in the field. But it’s the Korean War that will finally save Toyota. US orders for trucks are quick to come and the first BJ is built in 1951 (which will become the Land Cruiser 3 years later). It's the equivalent of a Willys jeep.

toyota BJ 1951 and a variant of the toyota van SB
Left: toyota BJ 1951. Right: a variant of the toyota van SB

The Kaizen doctrine

In the early 1950s, many Japanese manufacturers who wish to bridge the technological gap with Western firms start to negotiate with European and American companies to produce their cars under license. Hence Hiro, which specializes itself in heavy weight vehicles, negotiates with Renault and starts producing the 4 CV. Nissan assembles the Austin Somerset 40, then the 50 Cambridge. Isuzu has an agreement with the English group Rootes and builds the Hillman Minx. Mitsubishi deals with Willys to manufacture their jeeps and the compact Kaiser Henry J.

Toyota takes a completely different approach and attempts to design 100% Japanese models, without the help of the West. Toyota founds its own subsidiary company for parts and accessories (Demso) and begins to experiment with the "Kanban System", which becomes after the Toyota Production System, based on the 'Kaizen' doctrine of continuous improvement: Lean manufacturing, decreased downtime, quality management, synchronized delivery.

But only 25 % of the vehicles are passenger cars, while the majority of the cars produced are sold to taxi companies. In general, they cannot even reach 100 km/h or 62 mph, but fast highways do not exist yet in Japan.

toyota master
Toyota Master 1953

If the Korean War rescued Toyota, the end of it in 1953 suggests that major problems are looming. Toyota must quickly adapt itself to face declining orders from the US Army. Logically, the external market provides the solution. But Toyota cannot compete with Western automobiles in the United States or Europe. Their cars are too slow and better designed for other markets such as Thailand, Taiwan, and South America. In these countries the poor road networks, the poor quality of gasoline and the scarcity of qualified mechanics do not allow anyone to use American vehicles at full capacity. On the other hand Toyota offers cheap but robust vehicles, rustics but reliables. They require little maintenance and especially they are all-terrain vehicles.

In addition to the robust BX truck, in 1955 Toyota produces the Crown, a sedan equipped with the 1453 cm3 of the Master. Even if this car does not reach 100 km/hour, its large trunk, its comfort and its remarkable solidity thanks to the heavy frame makes it very popular with taxi drivers, administrations and police corps. This is an ideal car for export. In 1957 Toyota produces the first Corona which develops 33 hp and can reach 90 km/h.

Following the success of Volkswagen and Volvo on the North American continent, the Toyota executives dream to conquer this market. The first branch is opened in Hollywood in 1957; the Toyopet is sold for $ 2.187, a price comparable to some US models like the Ford Fairline. It has an output of 60 hp and can reach 120 km/h. Nine hundred vehicles are sold in 1958, 1,600 the following year. But sales declined thereafter; the Crown is not adapted to American roads. The motor does not support the prolonged high speeds and choke on the endless straight lines and desert highways. The gearbox 3 ratios is hard to handle for a US driver accustom to automatic transmissions. Only in Australia can Toyota meet some success. The Corona however gets a bad reputation. Only the indestructible BJ succeeds to capture the market.

Year Production Year Production
1945 3,275 1953 16,496
1946 5,821 1954 22,713
1947 3,922 1955 22,786
1948 6,703 1956 46,417
1949 10,824 1957 79,527
1950 11,706 1958 78,856
1951 14,228 1959 101,194
1952 14,106 1960 154,770

Table: Total production of all types of Toyota vehicles
by year, 1945-1960

In 1960, the Crown receives a new 1897 cm3 engine, the 3R . This engine delivers a power of 90 hp, which increase the top speed to 140 km/h . The Crown 1900 is also the first Toyota to use an automatic transmission, the Toyoglide. Toyota’s engineers also try to get rid of the disastrous image that sticks to the Corona after many mechanical troubles. The cantilever rear springs are replaced by more conventional semi- elliptic leafs. Locks and door brackets are strengthened but the accidental opening problems will never be solved. The engine of 1 liter, which was not enough for America, is replaced by the engine of the Crown in 1500. The Corona can thus reach 135 km / h and is renamed "Tiara" before to be sold $ 1,613 in the US. It’s only a little more expensive than the price of a beetle in 1960 ($ 1,565 ).

The Crown second- generation

The main Toyota product, the Crown, is completely revamped in 1962 , at least the outward appearance . But convenience is still a core feature, the trunk is much wider and the comfort inside is improved. Virtually all the mechanical aspect of the former model is improved slightly. But the Corona / Tiara fails to regain consumer confidence, despite an aggressive advertising campaign focused on reliability and the suspension..Toyota is a brand that sells quite well in Australia and New Zealand but it’s much harder to achieve a breakthrough in the US market.

Toyota wins the first Grand Prix, 1963
Toyota wins the first Grand Prix of Japan, 1963

In 1963, Toyota does a wonderful publicity stunt in the first Grand Prix of Japan, held at the Suzuka circuit. This event is not a Formula one race as we know it today, but a set of several events where racing cars and simple sedans compete in different categories. Most of the cars are Japanese, but there are also some wealthy drivers who use European thoroughbreds, Abart , Porshe , Triumph .... But Toyota makes a historic hat trick by winning the class C2 (400 to 700 cm3) with the Publica , the class C5 ( 1300-1600 cm3) with the Corona and the C6 class ( 1600-1900cm3 ) with the Crown against European cars as well as other Japanese cars like Prince , Mazda and Nissan. The event is widely publicized in the country. Sales rise sharply in Japan and Toyota is now recognized as the leading car manufacturer of the country, both in quantity and quality. Toyota can now prepare itself to take over the world.