By on September 17, 2013

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Toyota Motor Corp. said in a statement that Eiji Toyoda, the man responsible for growing Toyota into a global powerhouse, died today. Toyoda had just turned 100 years old last week. The cause of death was listed as heart failure. Toyoda was a cousin of Kiichiro Toyoda, the founder of Japan’s largest car company and he took over management of the family business in 1967 and served as president until 1982, when Toyota Motor Co. and Toyota Sales were merged and he became chairman of the combined corporation, holding that position until 1992.

In 1950 U.S. occupation forces in Japan sent Toyoda to Dearborn to learn about building trucks from Ford. The Toyota company had switched production almost entirely to making trucks for the Imperial Japanese Army starting in the late 1930s. The U.S. Army was considering having Toyota build them trucks to use in the Korean conflict. Once in Dearborn Toyoda realized that Ford was not that far ahead of Toyota in terms of technology but until then Toyota Motor had been building vehicles in small batches. Toyoda pushed his company to learn from Ford, GM and other automakers about mass production of automobiles.

Perhaps Toyoda’s greatest talent was learning from others. He was such an adept student that by the time Toyoda retired, those other automakers were using Toyota as a benchmark of manufacturing excellence. Creating that reputation was only one of Toyoda’s accomplishments, which also included building at least 10 new factories, expanding exports to dozens of countries, instituting kanban, just in time production methods, and kaizen, or continuous improvement. It’s said that he got the idea for kanban from observing the way American grocery stores used suppliers to keep their shelves stocked. Following the examples of Henry Ford and Isaac Singer, he also advocated establishing assembly facilities overseas to build cars where Toyota sold them, first with the NUMMI partnership in California with General Motors and later with independent factories in the U.S., Canada, England and France. He was also a pioneer in introducing computers to the production process. The reputation for quality and reliability that Toyota products have today can be traced back to a 1960 decision by Eiji Toyoda to embrace “total quality control” including the ideas of Dr. Demming.

Eiji Toyota was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame, Dearborn, Michigan, in 1997

Eiji Toyota was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame, Dearborn, Michigan, in 1994, the second Japanese automaker to be inducted, after Soichiro Honda

Once Toyota was well established as global vendor of mass market cars, Toyoda also spearheaded the development of Toyota’s luxury Lexus brand to take on companies like BMW and Mercedes-Benz. He was inducted into the U.S. Automotive Hall of Fame in Dearborn, Michigan in 1994, the second Japanese auto executive so honored, after Soichiro Honda.

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“As a member of the automobile industry, this is indeed a great moment for me,” he said in a statement upon his induction. “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.”

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Toyoda was born on Sept. 12, 1913, near Nagoya, the second son of Heikichi and Nao. He grew up within his father’s textile mill, according to his autobiography, Toyota: Fifty Years in Motion. A member of a prestigious family, he gained admission to the University of Tokyo where he received a degree in mechanical engineering in 1936. Following graduation, he joined the family business, Toyoda Automatic Loom Works Ltd., working for his uncle, Sakichi Toyoda, who had invented a loom that automatically shut itself off when a piece of fabric broke. Jidoka, the use of machines that shut down when problems are detected, would later be a hallmark of Toyota manufacturing. In 1937, Sakichi’s son, Kiichiro, who had been heading Toyoda Automatic Loom Works automotive division, founded Toyota Motor bringing his younger cousin, then in his 20s, into the new enterprise.

Eiji Toyoda started out on the factory floor before working his way up in the family business to head production planning.  He became a director of the company in 1945. Given a great deal of autonomy, he had a major role in establishing the company headquarters in Toyota City, Aichi prefecture.

A private family funeral service will be held, Toyota Motor Corp. said in a statement. He had three sons and a daughter with his late wife, Kazuko. He is survived by his eldest son, Kanshiro, according to Toyota’s statement. Akio Toyoda, the grandson of  Kiichiro Toyoda, and Eiji Toyoda’s first cousin, twice removed, currently heads the automobile company.

Thanks to William Chapin, director of the Automotive Hall of Fame, for giving TTAC access to their display honoring inductee Eiji Toyoda on very short notice. The Chapins, like the Toyodas, are an automotive family. Bill’s father Roy Jr. ran American Motors and his grandfather Roy Sr. ran Hudson.

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