Man who turned Toyota into global giant dies at 100

Eiji Toyoda built a reputation for manufacturing excellence for the firm founded by his cousin

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 May, 2015, 4:41pm

Eiji Toyoda, who spearheaded Toyota Motor's expansion in the United States as the carmaker's longest-serving president, has died at the age of 100.

He died of heart failure early yesterday morning, the company said.

During his 57-year career, the younger cousin of Toyota's founder Kiichiro Toyoda helped reshape a maker of Chevrolet knock-offs into a carmaker whose manufacturing efficiency became the envy of General Motors and Ford Motor.

By the time he stepped down in 1994, Toyota was assembling Corollas in the US, had started the Lexus luxury brand and had initiated a project that would develop the world's most successful hybrid vehicle, the Prius.

During the 69 years Toyoda worked at the company, it rose from assembling cars from parts made by GM to being 16 times more valuable than the Detroit-based carmaker.

Toyoda became president of Toyota in 1967 and served for 15 years - longer than anyone before or since. In 1982, Toyota and Toyota Motor Sales merged and Toyoda became chairman of the combined company, serving until 1992.

Under his stewardship, the carmaker set up at least 10 new factories, began exporting to dozens of countries, established just-in-time production and built a reputation for manufacturing excellence. The Corolla became the best-selling car.

His greatest achievement may have been laying the foundation for the company to apply its manufacturing expertise overseas, which led to the formation of Toyota's first venture in the US in 1983 - a year after he passed the presidency to his cousin, Shoichiro Toyoda.

The success of that venture, in partnership with GM, in California, showed that Toyota's manufacturing principles could be applied across different cultures, and gave the company the confidence to build its own independent plants in the US state of Kentucky, Canada, England and France, Toyoda said.

Toyoda, born near Nagoya on September 12, 1913, grew up in his father's textile mill, and was schooled from an early age in machines and business, according to his autobiography, Toyota: Fifty Years in Motion.

He graduated from the University of Tokyo with a degree in mechanical engineering in 1936 and joined Toyoda Automatic Loom Works, working for his uncle, Sakichi Toyoda. At the time, Sakichi's son, Kiichiro, was heading a car division of the company. In 1937, Kiichiro founded Toyota and took his cousin with him.

Toyoda, then in his 20s, started on the factory floor before being promoted to production planning and director. He became a director in 1945.

He had three sons and a daughter with his wife, Kazuko. He is survived by his eldest son, Kanshiro.