Toyota marks 50 years in U.S.


This month marks a pretty significant milestone, 50 years since Toyota first started selling cars in the U.S. A collection of articles:

Toyota marks 50 years in U.S. Dallas Morning News

It's important to keep in mind that Toyota was hardly an overnight success:

“Ambitious, detail-oriented Toyota – the most feared automaker in the industry – landed in the U.S. 50 years ago this month with a tiny, tinny thud…. started with one product – the lumbering Toyota Land Cruiser wagon/off-road vehicle – and later got the comical Toyopet sedan, a car that dealers said was overweight, underpowered and often overheated.” (Dallas Morning News)

Toyota has gotten better at product development and in matching supply and production to customer demand, avoiding the waste of overproduction.

“One thing Toyota has been really good at is predicting demand three to five years down the road,” said Jesse Toprak, executive director of industry analysis at “Their goal is to always build one fewer vehicle than there is demand, and they are very good at hitting it.” (Dallas Morning News)

Toyota's launch of the new Tundra pickup was hardly a success, but Toyota responded with what sounds like “kaizen” (or continuous improvement) in action:

“Earlier this year, for example, the new Tundra pickup was launched to unexpectedly slow sales. After analyzing sales data and talking to dealers, Toyota realized that buyers wanted more upscale trucks than it was offering and changed the production mix.”

50 YEARS OF TOYOTA — Chicago Tribune

Again, Toyota started slowly:

Toyota sold 288 Toyopet Crown sedans and one Land Cruiser in 1957, its first year in the U.S., a performance so bad the company almost went home.

“It started with a mistake,” said Jim Lentz, executive vice president of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. “That car really wasn't fit for U.S. roads or the U.S. consumer.” (Tribune)

Can you imagine how things would be different here if Toyota *had* gone home? Would Honda have grown to dominate the U.S. market in their place? Would the demise of the Detroit Three have been slower?

Here is a story I have heard before, but it really illustrates the idea of “go and see” management, the idea of going to the “gemba,” or the actual place, to see problems first hand. That's a core element of the Toyota management system:

Gieszl recalls a story from the 1970s when Shoichiro Toyoda, son of the company founder and later chairman of Toyota Motor Corp., visited the U.S. On one stop, a
dealer complained that certain engines had a flaw that left metal shavings in the oil, causing mechanical problems. When told that a vehicle with that problem was in the service department, Toyoda rolled up his sleeves, reached into the oil, felt the shavings and ordered a fix.”Something like that really sets the tone,” Gieszl said. “When you go right to the scene, there's no filter of the information coming up. Then you have a real understanding of the situation.” (Tribune)

No filtering of information… I can only imagine how much information is filtered by the time it gets to the CEO's of Ford or GM. I remember a story about when Alan Mulally was new to Ford and he had to, basically, tell his managers to start telling the truth about problems. Understanding problems clearly is the first step in effective problem solving.

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. Readers who’ll be in the NYC area on WED., NOV. 14 may be interested in hearing TOYOTA chairman Fujio Cho speak at a noontime event at Japan Society. James McDonald, CEO of Rockefeller & Co., will preside.

    The luncheon is sold out but seats still available for the lecture 1-2 pm; (Japan Society is at E. 47th Street betw. 1st & 2nd Aves.)


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