The leader of the world’s largest automaker Toyota, Shoichiro Toyoda, passed away on Tuesday. During the 1980s, he oversaw the company’s production expansion into North America and contributed to its growth into a recognized global brand. He was 97.
Toyota stated in a statement that he passed away from heart failure. His place of death was not specified in the report.
During his ten years in charge of Toyota, Mr. Toyoda used his excellent engineering, management, political, and diplomatic abilities to place the business founded by his father firmly on the path to overtaking General Motors as the largest carmaker in the world.
Toyota Indonesia announces the passing of Toyota Motor Corporation Honorary Chairman Shoichiro Toyoda by tweet:
We are deeply saddened to announce the passing of Toyota Motor Corporation Honorary Chairman, Shoichiro Toyoda
Shoichiro san was a great supporter for us, and his legacy and contribution can be felt across all of our entities even till today pic.twitter.com/pxKuKHD7va
— Toyota Indonesia (@ToyotaID) February 15, 2023
The achievement was all the more remarkable given that he took over Toyota in 1982, at the height of trade tensions between the United States and Japan and at a time when Japanese automobiles had become a potent symbol of American concerns that Japan might overtake the United States as the dominant economic force in the world.
Despite these conflicts, Mr. Toyoda expanded his company’s production into North America, first forming a partnership with General Motors in 1984 before establishing the company’s first American plant, in Kentucky, in 1988. Mr. Toyoda did this in response to American pressure to manufacture cars in the country.
He had globalized production by the time of his departure, making the business genuinely worldwide.
When it came to relations between the United States and Japan, the world’s first and second largest economies at the time, Mr. Toyoda adopted a pragmatic approach, arguing that as Japan’s economy grew, it needed to work harder to win over its rivals. He incorporated this idea into Toyota’s corporate philosophy.
After resigning as the company’s CEO, he became the chairman of Japan’s most influential business lobby in 1994. In this role, he shaped the nation’s initiatives to combat the early 1990s-era economic stagnation.
When Was Shoichiro Toyoda Born?
Kiichiro and Hatako Toyoda’s second child, Shoichiro, was born on February 27, 1925, in Nagoya, a central Japanese industrial port city. He had a comfortable upbringing; in a 2014 piece for the Nikkei Shimbun newspaper, he described how bullies at his primary school had tormented him when he admitted to having breakfast with his family’s “maidservant.”
His father, Sakichi, developed an automatic loom manufacturer, which he later spun off to create Toyota Motor in 1937. Toyoda’s “d” had been converted to a “t” in the firm name since it read more aesthetically in Japanese.
Mr. Toyoda started attending Nagoya University during the Second World War. He claimed in the Nikkei report that he was denied the draught because his major in engineering was deemed essential to the war effort. After the war, he enrolled in Tohoku University’s graduate program and earned a doctorate from Nagoya University.
In 1950, crippled by debt, Toyoda divided into two businesses, one for manufacture under the direction of Kiichiro Toyoda and the other for sales. Due to a simmering labor dispute, Kiichiro Toyoda had to step down, briefly terminating the family’s control over the business. Not long after, he passed away.
As the director of the inspection department, Shoichiro Toyoda joined the company at the age of 27. Early in his career, he was crucial to Toyota’s first entry into the U.S., approving the export of the Crown model after driving it across the country and making a cheeky stop in front of Ford’s headquarters in Detroit.
Due to the car’s underpowered engine, American drivers rejected it. In response to the setback, Mr. Toyoda was “motivated to produce a high-quality passenger automobile that would perform well anyplace in the globe,” he wrote in the Nikkei in 2014.
Despite the error, he soon advanced in the company’s hierarchy, partly because of his aptitude for engineering and business and partly because of his family’s continued power inside the organization. He was in charge when the company’s two parts merged in 1982.
It was a time when the company faced both immense promise and risk. The United States had lost ground to Japan as the largest automaker in the world, and as inflation, unemployment, and protectionist feeling rose in the United States, Tokyo, and Washington decided to impose the first of several rounds of import restrictions on Japanese cars.
When Nissan and Honda opened plants here, Mr. Toyoda guided the business into a partnership with General Motors to boost sales in the United States. In an interview with The New York Times, a firm official said giving “salt to our opponent” was a reference to Japan’s feudal era when warlords occasionally fed civilians in the land of their adversaries. The headline “Hell Freezes Over” appeared in the magazine Car & Driver. The collaboration ended soon after General Motors filed for bankruptcy in 2009.
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Even as he battled with American businesses, Mr. Toyoda pushed Japanese companies to become more involved in the neighborhoods where they established their facilities. He urged Japanese businessmen to participate in regional philanthropic groups in the U.S. to “contribute on the same level as Americans” in a speech given in 1990. (The Japanese government provided tax breaks to those who did.)
He founded a management training center to support American enterprises as Americans became fascinated with Toyota’s ultra-efficient production techniques. He also contributed to reducing trade tensions by making concessions to Washington.
When Mr. Toyoda left his position as president in 1992 to take the place of chairman, Toyota had facilities in 22 different nations and was vying with its old partner, General Motors, for the title of largest automaker in the world, which it eventually won in 2008.
Toyota Tanzania announces the passing of Toyota Motor Corporation Honorary Chairman Shoichiro Toyoda by tweet:
We at Toyota Tanzania are deeply saddened by the passing of Shoichiro Toyoda, the honorary chairman of Toyota Motor Corporation.
We are sending our heartfelt condolences to the Toyoda and global Toyota family. We are proud to have the honor of continuing his legacy. pic.twitter.com/lBmwtICOQ1
— Toyota Tanzania (@ToyotaTanzania) February 17, 2023
Mr. Toyoda was chosen chairman of the corporate lobbying group Keidanren in 1994, as Japan’s rapid economic expansion abruptly shifted into a period of stagnation. There, he spent four years urging the nation to abolish the numerous restrictions that he claimed were impeding its growth.
In 1999, Mr. Toyoda resigned from his role as Toyota’s chairman. He was named honorary chairman for life, a position in which he continued to impact the company’s direction. He was honored with a U.S. Automotive Hall of Fame induction in 2007.
I have worked tirelessly to contribute at least a few new lines to the auto industry history books, he said in the 2014 piece looking back on his career. In addition to his son Akio and daughter Atsuko, Mr. Toyoda is survived by his wife Hiroko Mitsui, whom he wed in 1952.