TOYOTA, the biggest maker of cars in the world, is 75 years old this year and boasts a history of almost unbroken success. But it’s a little-known fact that a crucial role in its foundation was played by a Lancashire mill town.
Kiichiro Toyoda, the Japanese giant’s founding father, was only able to realise his ambition to begin vehicle manufacturing when his family’s textile weaving business sold the patents to its automatic loom to a British company, Platt Brothers, of Oldham.
Inspired by his visits to car plants in America, Toyoda used the money to invest in research and the preparation of prototypes, leading to the production of the first Toyota car, the AA saloon, in 1936.
The formation of the Toyota Motor Company the following year established a business that has grown to become one of the world’s most successful. In 75 years it has pioneered new vehicles, developed new technologies and defined efficient manufacturing principles that have been adopted the world over.
With government permission to set up a vehicle manufacturing business, the history of today’s Toyota corporation was underway. After the Second World War, additional investment brought a new focus on exploring opportunities outside Japan.
As exports grew, Toyota reasoned that success could be achieved by building cars and trucks local to the markets where they will be sold and used – a principle that still holds true.
This year Toyota reclaimed its title as the world’s top carmaker, overtaking General Motors. Having overcome high-profile safety recalls and natural disasters, the company sold almost five million vehicles in the first half of 2012.
The stats are awesome: Toyota, which includes sub-brands Lexus and Daihatsu, has 50 overseas manufacturing companies in 27 countries; its vehicles sell in more than 160 countries; and in the 2012 financial year its net income was £2.24 billion. It could probably end Europe’s economic deficit single-handed.
Hundreds of vehicles have carried the Toyota badge but the AA was where its commercial car manufacturing began. The four-door saloon, powered by a six-cylinder engine, also had the distinction of being the first home-built car for the Japanese market.
Its public debut at an exhibition in Tokyo, together with a cabriolet version, helped prompt the Japanese government to give the Toyoda Automatic Loom Works permission to build vehicles, opening the way for the founding of Toyota and the immediate construction of its first car factories.
At last year’s Tokyo Motor Show, Toyota unveiled their image for the next generation of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. The technology produces only one waste product – water – and emits no carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases. Toyota says a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle will be commercially available from 2015.
Toyota says respect for the planet will remain at the heart of its activities and its continued progress towards the ultimate eco-car – one that has zero impact on the environment.