Toyota – Something for everyone
Toyota’s 100th birthday is in sight. Despite being nearly a century old, nothing is slowing down the Japanese company as it continues to speed into the future.
In the beginning
Kiichiro Toyoda founded the Toyota automobile company in 1937. The Toyoda family had already been in business for some time. However, cars and trucks were not the family’s source of income. The Toyodas made looms and worked in the textile industry.
Rather than name the company after themselves, the Toyodas modified the Japanese symbol writing of ‘Toyoda’ and created ‘Toyota’. The change in symbols meant there were fewer strokes used in the writing of the company’s name. Eight strokes were used, which is said to be lucky in Japan. Perhaps with Toyota’s success over the decades, the eight strokes were, in fact, good fortune. There was another reason for the name change. The family’s name ‘Toyoda’ also had a special meaning in the Japanese language. The word means “fertile rice paddies”, and members of the new automotive company were afraid it would be associated with farming. Not wanting to be seen as a farm industry company, the family established the car brand under the ‘Toyota’ name.
Even before the Toyota automobile company had been established, it had created its first ever car. In 1936, Toyoda and his team built the Toyota AA. When the Toyota AA hit the market, it was cheaper than Ford and GM cars which saturated the Japanese market.
Both Ford and GM had established Japan-based automotive plants. The American duo dominated the Japanese automotive scene following an earthquake in 1923. The effects of the quake meant Ford and GM cars were needed for the rebuilding process. In the late 1930s, Toyota was now rivaling the two American giants and attempting to break up their duopoly.
Although it had established itself as a player in the automotive industry in Japan, the company was hit hard by World War II. Bombings and the continually changing Japanese economy badly affected Toyota. However, by the end of the war, Toyota’s future looked much brighter. Although its executives and employees may not have known it at the time, Toyota would be an integral part of Japan’s rebuilding efforts post-World War II. Before Toyota could rebound, however, its owner Kiichiro Toyoda made plans to diversify the company. He needed to pay his employees, and he took great pride in providing jobs for them.
Growth and breakthrough
Toyota learned from its failure with the Toyopet and improved its sales with each subsequent U.S. release. In 1965, the re-designed Toyopet was released under its new name, Toyota Corona. It was Toyota’s first major success on American shores. Success in the U.S. led to an increase in production and sales around the globe through the remainder of the 1960s and 1970s. The company had already gained a reputation for producing fuel-efficient cars. By the mid-1980s, the Japanese company had established its first U.S.-based production facility in California.
The 1990s continued to see growth as Toyota established Lexus as a luxury auto brand. Toyota also led the way with vehicle innovations as it released the Prius in 1997. The car was the first ever mass-produced hybrid vehicle. As of 2013, over 1.5 million Prius cars had been sold. The hybrid car’s popularity was so high in the mid-2000s that South Park even spoofed the vehicle in an episode.
Today, Toyota remains one of the top three automakers in the world. The company continues to innovate and build high-quality automobiles.
Toyota toyed with auto racing for decades, and it laid the groundwork for the company’s entry into Formula One. Toyota didn’t officially announce its Formula One intentions until 1999. By that time, many of its competitors such as Honda and Ford had already been in the motorsport. Unlike most new entrants who partner with other companies to create and manufacture elements of their cars, Toyota chose to develop its own works team to build Formula One cars.
In 2002, Toyota debuted in Formula One. The year was a complete failure from a team standpoint. Toyota had one of the motorsport’s largest budgets, but drivers Finn Mika Salo and Allan McNish could only secure two points while driving the TF102. The disappointing performances of Salo and McNish meant they weren’t asked back for the following season.
Things got worse in 2004 when Toyota was accused of industrial espionage. The Japanese team faced accusations of stealing data from Ferrari. The two companies had very similar cars released with the Toyota TF104 and the Ferrari F2003-GA.
As the economic crisis of the late 2000s engulfed the world, Toyota’s parent company announced losses for the first time in its history. Facing an uncertain financial future, Toyota decided to end its Formula One team after the 2009 season. The company did work out an agreement to supply chassis and engines to the Stefan Grand Prix team in 2010. The company has not returned to Formula One since departing. Toyota’s Formula One life only lasted from 2002 to 2009. In all, the 2005 season was Toyota’s most successful as the team gained 88 points and a fourth-place finish.
Toyota’s entry into Le Mans was similar to its Formula One participation. Throughout the 1980s, Toyota worked with racecar constructor company Dome. In 1994, Toyota supported the Toyota Team Tom at Le Mans as well. However, it wasn’t until Toyota began its move into Formula One that the Le Mans 24-Hour Endurance Race was taken more seriously.
In 1997, Toyota unveiled the Toyota GT-One, and two years later, Toyota’s GT-One looked set to finish Le Mans ahead of the pack. However, tire problems ended the team’s chances of taking top prize at the famous race. Toyota debuted its TS030 Hybrid in 2012. The gasoline-hybrid racecar became the base of every Toyota entry into the Le Mans 24-Hour Endurance Race and the FIA World Endurance Championship since.
The 2018 Le Mans race proved to be Toyota’s most successful at the Circuit de la Sarthe. Toyota’s TS050 No. 8 car finished the race in first place. It was just the second time a Japanese automaker’s car had won the Le Mans 24-Hour Endurance Race. Fernando Alonso, Sebastien Buemi, and Kazuki Nakajima teamed up to win the famous race for Toyota.
Toyota has a history in NASCAR that dates back to the turn of the century. In 2000, Toyota introduced the V6-Celica Goody’s Dash program. Three years after Toyota’s NASCAR debut, driver Robert Huffman won the team’s first-ever NASCAR championship.
Toyota Camrys have been racing in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. The series is set to have a brand-new Toyota racecar introduced in 2019 that will have fans of the automaker excited.
The Toyota Supra is an iconic sports car made by the Japanese auto brand. The sports car was in production from 1978 to 2002. Since production ended, petrol heads and Toyota enthusiasts have called for the company to begin building it once more.
Originally part of the Toyota Celica line, the Supra became its own entity in 1986. The 6-cylinder fastback coupe enjoyed four generations during its lifetime. Due to the Supra’s popularity with petrol heads, the Supra has been featured in a number of racing video games. Supras were also used in The Fast and The Furious film franchise.
In March 2018, a new track-only Supra was unveiled at the Geneva Auto Show. Nearly 16 years after the last Supra was rolled off of the assembly line, the sports car has found a new lease of life. The new Supra will be used by Gazoo Racing. Like many sports cars, it will be used on the track first and readied for the road. The fifth generation of Supra is on its way, but it will be refined on the racetrack first.
Although the new Supra will be co-developed with the new BMW Z4, the Japanese automaker has stated it will be true to the sports car’s heritage. This means it will have ‘an inline, front-mounted 6-cylinder engine and rear-wheel drive’.
In 2019, the new Supra will start its engine in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. The car will make its NASCAR debut in February at Daytona. The car’s entry into NASCAR makes it the first time the Supra has been used in the motorsport.
Other iconic Toyota cars
The Celica spawned Toyota’s classic Supra sports car. With smooth lines and excellent power delivery, the Celica is a favorite of Toyota enthusiasts. The sports car was in production from 1971 to 2006. Seven generations were produced, and the sports car was used in rally driving by different race teams.
The Prius is one of the companies most popular vehicles. The hybrid car is one of the best-selling on the market. The Prius was the first mass-produced hybrid car, and it continues to be one of the most popular.
Toyota’s Camry was America’s best-selling car for more than a decade. It is the crown jewel of the Japanese company. The Camry started out as a compact car in 1982, but the company discontinued the smaller size in 1998. The current Camry is a mid-sized car with a much wider body than its compact predecessor. Although Camry sales are now in danger of decreasing dramatically, the car’s reign as the best-selling in America is a testament to Toyota’s quality.
Toyota remains one of the most innovative auto companies on the planet. It has reached its success as a top manufacturer through hard work and providing the public with sensible, high-quality automobiles. The future continues to look bright for Toyota, and with its iconic Supra car returning, big things are expected from the company.