E3 Spark Plugs joins the rest of the automotive world in bidding goodbye to Eiji Toyoda, who passed away yesterday at age 100. Toyoda, a cousin of Toyota’s founder Kiichiro Toyoda, served the company’s longest tenure as president – 25 years from 1967 until his retirement in 1982. He then served another 10 years as chairman of the Toyota Motor Corporation following the unification of the manufacturing and sales divisions.
Toyoda is credited with spearheading the development of the Prius, expanding production overseas for the first time, launching the Lexus brand and turning Toyota from a minor industry player into one of the world’s largest automakers.
Born in 1913, Toyoda grew up inside his father’s textile mill and studied machines and business early on. In 1936, he graduated from the University of Tokyo with a degree in mechanical engineering and joined Toyoda Automatic Loom Works Ltd., working for his uncle, Sakichi Toyoda, inventor of a weaving loom that automatically shut itself off when a piece of fabric broke. Meanwhile, Sakichi’s son, Kiichiro, was heading an automobile division of Toyoda Automatic Loom Works. The next year, Kiichiro founded Toyota Motor and Toyoda joined him, starting on the factory floor.
A turning point for Toyoda and the company came in 1950, when the U.S. Army sent him to Dearborn, Mich. to learn about mass production from Ford. The United States needed Toyota to build trucks for its troops in Korea. But Toyoda was less than impressed with the iconic American carmaker’s technology. Upon returning home, he set out to develop what would become known as the Toyota Production System, which aimed to eliminate excess inventory of parts and other waste. That system became so successful it later was adopted by other carmakers, and by manufacturers outside the automotive industry.
The U.S. Automotive Hall of Fame inducted Toyoda in 1994, making him the second honoree from Japan, after Soichiro Honda.
“As a member of the automobile industry, this is indeed a great moment for me,” he said of the honor. “Ever since Toyota’s establishment in 1937, I have been involved in this wonderful business, and as long as my engine keeps running, I intend to give back as much as I can for the industry’s further development.”
Toyoda died of heart failure and is survived by his eldest son, Kanshiro.