Independent development based on Japanese technology

By around 1950, with the progress of economic recovery and increasing demand for a passenger car for taxi service, there were growing calls for the liberalization of imports of passenger cars from outside Japan. Although restrictions on the passenger car production activities of Japanese vehicle manufacturers had only just been removed by General Headquarters (GHQ) in October 1949, Toyota needed to respond to events with the speedy development of a full-fledged passenger car.

Toyota Motor Co., Ltd. rolled out sales of Model SA, SD, SF and SH/RH Toyopet passenger cars. However, these consisted of a chassis made by Toyota Motor Co., Ltd. onto which was mounted a body designed and produced by the vehicle body manufacturer. Although the vehicle carried the Toyopet name, as long as this system was in place, it would remain difficult to offer a full-fledged passenger car. The company therefore set about establishing a system in which it could take responsibility for the sales price and quality assurance of its own manufactured products.

On July 26, 1952, President Taizo Ishida of Toyota Motor Co., Ltd. attended the 36th meeting of the Upper House Transport Committee of the 13th Session of the Japanese Diet as a witness along with five other representatives of the industry.1 There, he explained that, under present conditions, dealers were free to set the retail price of Japanese-made passenger cars, which meant that Toyota Motor Co., Ltd. was unable to take responsibility for an advertised fixed price. To remedy this situation, starting with the sales launch of the Model BX truck in August 1951, Toyota Motor Co., Ltd. began turning out chassis with an all-steel finished cab which was designed in-house and manufactured by Toyota Auto Body Co., Ltd. By thus shipping finished vehicles, Toyota Motor Co., Ltd. moved toward establishing a system under which it could take responsibility for a fixed price and quality assurance.

In answer to questions from the Diet's Upper House Transport Committee, President Ishida declared "If it turns out that our technology cannot keep pace, I am ready to heed the criticisms we have heard today by giving up the idea of a Japanese-made vehicle.......we feel sure that, in the near future, the day will come when people will say that we did a decent job, and we look forward to that day". This was his understated way of conveying that Toyota Motor Co., Ltd. was committed to developing a passenger car using Japanese-made technology and that it was determined to thwart its critics by realizing that goal in the near future.

In the Japanese automobile industry of the time, a series of technology alliances for passenger car production were being formed with non-Japanese manufacturers. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries formed an alliance with the U.S. firm Kaizer Frazer Corporation and began assembly production of the Henry J passenger car in June 1951. Mitsubishi was followed by Hino Diesel Industry Co., Ltd. (now Hino Motors Ltd.), which entered into an alliance with the French firm Renault in July 1952 for manufacture and sale of the Renault 4CV passenger car; Nissan Motor Co., Ltd. began a technology alliance with the British firm Austin for the Austin A40 passenger car in December of the same year, and Isuzu Motors Limited agreed on a technology alliance with the British firm Rootes for the Hillman Minx passenger car in February 1953.

It was against this background that Toyota Motor Co., Ltd. declared its ambition to base its development on purely home-grown technology. In the Japanese press, one strand of opinion maintained that Toyota Motor Co., Ltd. was a firm of provincials who were behind the times, but there was also criticism of firms that were falling over themselves to introduce non-Japanese technology. There was thus widespread interest in the future fate of the Japanese-made passenger car.

For Toyota Motor Co., Ltd.-where the spirit of research and creativity based on self-help efforts had been nurtured since the days of Sakichi and Kiichiro Toyoda-developing a passenger car independently was a perfectly natural course of action. In accordance with the instructions of Kiichiro, who had passed away suddenly in March 1952, Toyota Motor Co., Ltd. had already started on full-fledged passenger car development in January of that year.

One point in President Ishida's words that attracted attention was his expectation that stamping of a single body would allow a substantial reduction in costs. In July 1952, when the second prototype of the new passenger car model was completed, the policy of building the body from stamped panels was confirmed, the idea of which was to benefit from a reduction in manufacturing costs. However, engine development had been progressing ahead of vehicle body development at Toyota Motor Co., Ltd.

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