"Uncle Tatsuro loved Japan, and he also really loved America," Toyoda said, reading from a prepared script delivered on a serving tray by white-gloved attendants.
A son of founder Kiichiro Toyoda, Tatsuro took the helm of the family's namesake automaker in mid-1992 from elder brother Shoichiro, who piloted Toyota's rampant global expansion.
Tatsuro didn't last long at the helm. He stepped aside abruptly in 1995 amid health problems.
But before becoming president, Tatsuro broke ground as the first president of Toyota's pioneering joint-venture assembly plant with General Motors, the New United Motor Manufacturing operation in Fremont, Calif. The Japanese carmaker's bold gamble embraced cooperation with not only unionized American workers but Toyota's biggest American rival.
Among the new practices introduced there: Workers were empowered to stop the line when they spotted a problem, something anathema to the old-school ways in Detroit.
His success in getting the venture off the ground opened the door for Toyota's plunge into U.S. production and going solo in building an assembly plant in Georgetown, Ky.
Toyota has never looked back. The U.S. is now its top market and long-standing cash cow.
Tatsuro's affection for America reached deeper than sales and profits.
In 1955, he studied abroad at the University of Southern California, writing some 150 postcards home to his mother. Later, he earned an MBA from New York University, where he studied under the famed quality-control guru W. Edwards Deming.
Also while studying in New York, he had a prophetic table tennis match.
"Those close to him heard him reminisce very fondly about how he enjoyed playing pingpong with Yoko Ono in the International House where he lived," Akio Toyoda said. "Yoko Ono once said a dream that you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality.
"My uncle dreamt of building cars in the United States," he said. "That dream was shared by all those who worked together in the United States, and hence, it became reality."
Naoto Okamura contributed to this report.