15 February 2023

Toyota founder’s son, who led global growth, dies aged 97

15 February 2023

Shoichiro Toyoda, who as a son of the company’s founder oversaw Toyota’s expansion into international markets, has died aged 97.

Mr Toyoda, the company’s honorary chairman, died on Tuesday of heart failure, Toyota Motor Corporation said in a statement.

He was the father of Akio Toyoda, who recently announced he was stepping down as president and chief executive to become its chairman.

Shoichiro Toyoda was the eldest son of Kiichiro Toyoda, who founded Toyota in 1937.

After becoming Toyota’s president in 1982, Shoichiro Toyoda helped direct Toyota’s transformation into a global carmaker, especially in the vital US market, where its brand became synonymous with quality, durability, cost performance and engineering finesse.

Both father and son experienced the difficult years of “Japan-bashing”, when powerful Japanese exporters such as Toyota were blamed for taking away American blue-collar jobs.

The company opted to become a member of the US car community, showing that Toyota was an asset, creating jobs and value for the American people.

With his brother Tatsuro, Shoichiro Toyoda helped pave the way for Toyota to set up manufacturing facilities in North America.

The company formed a joint venture with General Motors in 1983.

It was called New United Motor Manufacturing, or NUMMI, and its first vehicle rolled out in 1984 in Fremont, California.

The company relied on the founding family’s legacy and historical charisma to tide it through times of crisis, although Toyota has had many chief executives who were not members of its founding family.

Shoichiro Toyoda was inducted into the US Automotive Hall of Fame in 2007, honoured for his achievements in cementing “Toyota’s reputation as one of the most recognised and celebrated auto manufacturers in the world”.

He graduated from the prestigious Nagoya University in 1947 with a degree in engineering and joined Toyota in 1952.

It is said that he earned the respect of fellow employees by working right beside them in factories.

That underscored Toyota’s vision of valuing the workplace, what is on the ground, or “genba”, as critical for morale, efficient production, innovation and quality.

Toyota’s beginnings were humble.

Shoichiro Toyoda’s grandfather, Sakichi Toyoda, invented the automatic loom in a backyard shed, mainly because he wanted to help his mother, who was often weaving in their home.

People were sceptical when Kiichiro Toyoda said he wanted to start building cars in 1933.

Back then, Japan only had imported cars such as GMs and Fords.

Today, The Toyota Way, a production method that empowers each worker for quality control, is viewed as the best in the car industry.

Toyota, which makes the Prius hybrid, Camry sedan and Lexus luxury models, is among the world’s top carmakers in vehicle sales.

A funeral for Shoichiro Toyoda was being held for close family.

A “farewell” event in his honour was being planned for a later date, according to Toyota.

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