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About ToyotaBefore there was the world's largest automaker, there was Toyoda Automatic Loom Works. Founder Sakichi Toyoda was an entrepreneur and inventor--and is considered a seminal figure in the Japanese industrial revolution. Toyota's reputation for quality can be traced directly to concepts pioneered in his textile factories in the 1920s.
Kiichiro Toyoda, son of Sakichi, established the automotive division of the company Toyota Motor Co. Ltd. in 1937, producing the AA sedan and AB cabriolet. Designs for these early cars came directly from other automakers--Chevrolet engines, Ford chassis, Chrysler Airflow bodies--but the intense industrial support in Japan during WWII gave Toyota a boost in confidence and technological competence. Post-war, Toyota began developing automobiles in-house--a marked difference from Nissan, Isuzu, and Hino, who chose to focus on license-built Austins, Hillmans, and Renaults. This gave Toyota an engineering edge that would keep them safely ahead of their Japanese competition for most of the 20th Century.
In 1958, the Toyopet... View more Crown reached American shores. (The quaintly unappealing Toyopet moniker would be gone by 1964.) The smaller Corona arrived in 1967, drawing fresh attention for its small size and distinctly Japanese styling. The Land Cruiser proved a competent off-road machine in the style of the American Jeep and British Land Rover and would become a permanent fixture in the Toyota lineup, along with the sub-compact Corolla, which was released in 1969.
The Toyota brand would get an injection of sportiness with the 2000 GT, available in small numbers from 1967 to 1970. This short-lived sports car garnered enthusiastic review from the automotive press and was immortalized in the Bond film "You Only Live Twice", which was set in Japan. The Celica (released in 1971) would give European sports cars a run for their money.
The 1973 oil crisis gave Americans a sudden, new-found appreciation for smaller, less-thirsty vehicles, and this shift carried Toyota through the 1980s. Motivated by import taxes, Toyota built its first plants in the U.S. around this time, as did Nissan and Honda. The front-wheel-drive Tercel and Camry debuted in 1978 and 1983, respectively.
Toyota launched their luxury brand Lexus in 1989 and aggressively diversified their model lineup through the 1990s and into the 2000s, adding the full-size Avalon (1994), a range of SUVs, including the crossover RAV4 (1994), and the youth-oriented Scion brand (2002). With the Tundra (2000), Toyota would finally gain a toehold in the full-sized pickup market. In 2008, Toyota became the largest automaker in the world, selling more vehicles than General Motors.
And Toyota would of course also be the first company to mass-produce a hybrid vehicle, pairing an internal combustion engine with a battery pack that is recharged during braking. The Prius, released in Japan in 1997, and in the U.S. in 2001, is the world's best-selling hybrid. Toyota now offers their "Hybrid Synergy Drive" technology on the Prius, Camry, and Highlander. The Lexus CT 200h is a new luxury hatchback equipped with "Lexus Hybrid Drive". Toyota has said hybrid technology will be offered on all vehicles by 2020. View less
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