Toyoda made Toyota Motor Corp. into a powerhouse. Many Americans will remember Toyoda, who died in September at age 100, as the man who laid out the vision for the Lexus brand. But that was just the logical extension of his lifetime's achievement.
When the Korean War began in 1950, the U.S. military decided that rather than scrap Toyota's truck factories, as had been the Occupation's plan, they needed them to supply the United Nations forces fighting in Korea. So they sent Eiji (AY'-jee), who had helped set up his family's vehicle manufacturing company, to Detroit to learn from Ford Motor Co.
He went back to Japan and took what was a parochial manufacturer in the boondocks and made it better and better. He championed a radical rethinking of manufacturing, led by the legendary Taiichi Ohno, which replaced the volume goals of mass production with the quality focus of the Toyota Production System. Automakers around the globe eventually copied it. Superb manufacturing expertise set Toyota apart from its rivals, and that was Eiji's doing.