It has been 50 years since the first Toyota showed up in America. Toyota's early efforts were not spectacularly successful, but it improved - constantly. That is the secret of its success.
Every day, Toyota's people want to get better. Every day, they want to improve their products or their processes or their team. And, every day, something has gotten better at Toyota - for 50 years.
This special issue of Automotive News recounts the highlights and reveals the people of those 50 years. The 25 Turning Points give a human look at critical moments in Toyota's development from a small, tentative importer to one of the top light-vehicle sellers in America.
A wonderful thing about a 50th anniversary is that most of the people involved are still around to tell their stories. For a year, Automotive News reporters have been tracking down and talking to dozens of the Toyota people who made this history.
Today Toyota is a part of the American landscape. There are more than 1,400 Toyota, Lexus and Scion dealerships across the country. Toyota has assembly plants from one end of North America to the other and component suppliers throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico.
Toyota dealers are among the most profitable. And Toyota still believes that the retail automobile dealer is the company's customer, a philosophy that is unique in the automobile business.
Toyota's people are the best, and when someone leaves the company, it is front-page news because it is so rare.
My first exposure to Toyota was several decades ago. Since then we have watched its American executives lead Toyota Motor Sales to larger market share just about every year.
Make no mistake, the two gasoline crises of the 1970s gave Toyota and the other Japanese brands a kick-start toward success. As the price of gasoline skyrocketed by American standards, consumers had the motivation to try those unknown brands. And people liked them. They liked the fuel economy, the quality and the reliability. And they continued to buy those brands in increasing numbers every year.
It was Lee Iacocca, of all people, who really made sure the Japanese were here for good. On the eve of a Detroit auto show in the early 1980s, he challenged the Japanese to build in America if they were going to sell here. And they did. They invested billions of dollars in dozens of plants, and they became part of the landscape.
They are part and parcel of Americana, with design studios and engineering centers creating American automobiles for Americans.
For half a century, Toyota has been offering American consumers products that they wanted to buy. And Toyota's people have been good citizens at the same time.
They have made all cars and trucks better. If you're competing with Toyota, you'd better make sure your vehicles are the best.
Yes, it has been a half a century since Toyota arrived.
It has gotten better for 50 years. Chances are good that it will be getting better for another 50.