Improved loom helped launch Toyota empire

First car actually a Toyoda, named after family firm

General Motors was king of the hill after they surpassed Ford’s sales figures in the late 1920s, but Toyota surpassed the friendly giant in the first quarter of 2007.

Sakichi Toyoda, born in 1867, revolutionized the Japanese weaving industry by building a steam-powered loom in 1890.

His son, Kiichiro, joined his father’s business and by 1924, they had developed a fully automated loom. In 1929, the British firm Platt Brothers purchased a license from Toyoda for $150,000.

Kiichiro had a greater interest in cars and engines than weaving looms and textiles.

He persuaded his father to invest in an automotive division. Kiichiro travelled to the U.S. and studied the American automotive industry.

Toyoda built their first engine in 1934, followed by their first car and truck in 1935. Toyoda concentrated on building trucks and buses, with an engine that was a cloned six-cylinder, overhead-valve Chevrolet.

The engine was so similar that Japanese vehicles captured during he Second World War were serviced by the allies using GM parts.

By 1955, automobiles were back in the picture.

They produced 8,400 per year for domestic consumption. The product gained popularity and, by 1966, production figures had reached 600,000 per year.

A civilian version of a military vehicle, the Land Cruiser, opened the doors to North America. The name Toyoda was changed to Toyota. It was easier to pronounce and, using eight strokes to write in Japanese, was luckier than the seven required to write Toyoda.

The Corona arrived in the U.S during the 1964 model year. It was known for its quality and low price, but it also had a severe rust problem — especially on North American roads that employed salt to melt ice in winter.

Following the Corona came the Crown, Corolla, Celica and Camry. The luxury models, Crown and Cressida evolved into a separate luxury division called Lexus in 1989 to compete with Lincoln, Cadillac and Mercedes.

Toyota never looked back.

By 2005, worldwide sales of the popular Camry had surpassed 10 million units.

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