released on January 2003
Honorary Advisor of Toyota Motor Corporation
The year 1957 marked the beginning of one of Toyota's biggest challenges, when two prototype made-in-Japan cars first left for the demanding, yet highly potential, American market. At that time Toyota cars were being developed with only Japan in mind. At Toyota Motor Sales, Co., Ltd. in Japan, Shotaro Kamiya, the president at that time, reasoned: "Even if our cars don't quite measure up at the moment, we don't have time to just stand around and watch. We need a bridgehead. Initially, we may experience some setbacks in entering the market, but all the time we'll be gaining precious experience and gradually improving our business performance."
In Japan, passenger cars had reached a respectable level in terms of performance, price and reliability, but their ability remained to be proven in the United States. In July 1958, the newly-established Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc., launched "a car that features the riding comfort of a standard model and the economy of a compact," according to car magazines. The Toyopet Crown had become Toyota's "bridgehead."
The bridgehead soon experienced "setbacks on the market," as the Toyopet Crown couldn't handle American long-distance highway driving conditions. The body was too heavy, and it lacked power and stability at high speeds. Neither the Toyopet Crown (a proven success in Japan) nor the Tiara — released two years later — succeeded in boosting sales. Toyota paid a physical price for having challenged such a different market, as exports of passenger cars were halted and unsold inventory withdrawn.
However, Toyota had learned the valuable lesson that, to be internationally competitive, a car must be able to handle local roads and highways. Only five years later in 1965, the Corona launched in the United States with an effective ad campaign, excellent highway performance and new features. As Toyota's exports skyrocketed from 3,800 in 1964 to 40,700 in 1967, the United States became Toyota's largest export market.
Eiji Toyoda, who played a key role in the initial exports to the United States, once reflected on the experience: "it was a wild risk to take, but the timing was pretty good. Our initial bad experience merely strengthened our determination ‘to make cars that would sell in the States.' We knew that Toyota Motor Sales would collapse if we didn't have decent products to sell. The first time we tried, we failed. So we took on the challenge of trying again, redoubled our efforts, and the second time we succeeded . . . In the end, the risk was worth it."
Loading Toyopet Crowns for the United States
Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc., 1957
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