Eiji Toyoda, founder of Lexus, Toyota Way; former Toyota president dead at 100

Eiji Toyota, president of Toyota from 1967 to 1981, chairman of Toyota from 1981 to 1994, and the man generally acknowledged as the founder of the Lexus luxury brand has died not long after his 100th birthday.

Born on 2 September, 1913 in Nagoya, Eiji studied mechanical engineering at Tokyo Imperial University until 1936.

In 1950 he was sent by Kiichiro Toyoda, his cousin, and the US government to tour Ford’s River Rouge plant in Dearborn, Michigan. The factory was then the world’s most efficient auto factory, churning out between 7,000 and 8,000 cars a day.

Kiichiro, founder of Toyota Motor Company, a spin-off of the family’s Toyoda Automatic Loom Works, wanted to greatly improve the company’s car production, because up until this point Toyota had produced just 2,685 cars in total. While the US government was keen on Toyota producing more trucks to help its troops in Korea.

Armed with a copy of Ford’s quality control manual and a mind full of improvements on the methods he saw employed at River Rouge, Eiji Toyoda returned to Japan and was instrumental in setting up the company’s Motomachi plant. There he helped pioneer the “Toyota Way”, which included the concept of kaizen, or continuous improvement, where line workers would use not just their hands, but also their heads by suggesting improvements that could improve both quality and efficiency.

This combined with just-in-time production, where parts and components are delivered to the factory shortly before they’re required, helped propel Toyota to become a leading light in automobile production. The comapny has also played advisor to companies in many other industries, while just-in-time manufacture is a staple in all manufacturing textbooks.

As president of Toyota, Eiji helped the company crack the important US market with the Corolla compact sedan. Later, as chairman, he would oversee the project that would eventually turn into the LS sedan and the Lexus luxury car brand. To overcome friction between Japan and the US, over exports and the yen’s exchange rate, he established Toyota’s first US car plant, NUMMI, a joint venture with General Motors.

In 1994 he became the second person from Japan, after Honda founder Soichiro Honda, to be inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame. He is survived by his eldest son, Kanshiro.

Sources: New York Times, Bloomberg, Wall Street Journal, San Francisco Chronicle

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Derek Fung

Derek Fung

Derek has a lifelong love for all things automotive, from the dullest Camry to record shattering Bugattis. Prior to starting up Between the Axles he was a reviewer for CNET Australia and the founding editor of its Car Technology channel. [Read more]