Half a century later, it's time for me to eat crow
John K. Teahen Jr. is senior editor of Automotive News. He has been with the newspaper since 1955.
I'm referring to my original assessment of Toyota's chances to be successful in the United States. That was in 1957, and I was not exactly optimistic. Actually, I proclaimed: "No way! They'll never make it."
Lots of auto folks agreed with me. Some didn't. One who didn't was my colleague Bob Lienert, who told me: "Don't be too sure. Toyota is going to surprise a lot of people."
I should have listened. Bob was one of the smartest auto guys I've ever known. We worked together for 34 years, 32 of them at Automotive News, until he died in 1988.
But why wouldn't I give Toyota the kiss of death? It was 1957, and Japanese auto brands were not exactly household words. In fact, most U.S. households had never heard those words.
And World War II was only a dozen years in the past. The Japanese were not our most beloved neighbors in 1957.
Perhaps most telling of all, Japanese manufacturers were known chiefly for making toys that broke before noon on Christmas Day. Cars? Forget it.
The Toyota lineup was less than imposing. There was the Toyopet, a car that died an early and timely death in the United States; and the Land Cruiser, a strange-looking machine that is still in the lineup and is just as strange-looking today as it was a half-century ago.
In 1958, Toyota sold one Land Cruiser in the United States.
Those early days made me quite a prophet, and my hat size grew accordingly. The Toyopet was a flop. It was totally unsuited to American roads and American driving habits. To their credit, Toyota executives recognized that and withdrew the car from their showrooms.
It was followed by a couple of equally undistinguished entries called the 1900 and the Tiara. Early Toyota dealer Dominic Galardi of New Haven, Conn., recalls that he sold 66 Tiaras one year and was third in the country in volume.
In each of its first seven years in this country, Toyota sold fewer than 1,000 cars. In 1963, the total was 40.
That Teahen is one smart guy. He predicted that would happen.
But Toyota didn't give up on the United States, as many of the other 1960s flopperoos did. Remember the Goggomobil, Goliath, Lloyd, Maico, Messerschmitt (the car, not the fighter plane)?
In Toyota City, executives, designers, engineers, line workers — the whole darn organization — buckled down to the task of making cars that U.S. drivers would buy. They came up with the Corona for the 1965 model year. And need I mention that they followed it with, among others, the Corolla, Camry, Prius and, oh, yes, the Lexus.
Toyota's U.S. sales were 6,404 in 1965. In 1966, the count was 20,908. The 2006 total was 2,542,545.
What a dunce that Teahen is! Couldn't he see that Toyota was marked for success?
OK, I admit I was wrong about Toyota. But, hey, in 52 years with Automotive News, I've been right a couple of times, too.
You can reach John K. Teahen Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org.