The man who made Toyota’s modern success died at the age of 100.
Robert siegel and auto journalist michelle Maynard talked about the death and legacy of former Toyota President and chairman of Toyota, Toyota.
Robert siegel, host:
That’s all for NPR news. I’m Robert siegel.
The auto giant died yesterday. He died a few days after his 100th birthday. Mr. Toyoda was President and later chairman of Toyota. The surname is TOYODA. Toyota is playing a key global role, especially as Toyota enters the U.S. market. Micheline Maynard covered the auto industry. She is now a contributing editor for Forbes magazine. Welcome to the show.
MICHELINE MAYNARD: thank you, Robert.
SIEGEL: Micheline, the obituary you wrote for Forbes was the headline, “how Toyota is creating a modern version of Toyota.” I gathered at the critical moment of that story to visit the ford motor plant in Michigan in the early 1950s. What happened when he saw ford?
MAYNARD: at that time, the rouge operation was huge. Henry Ford had the idea that you could actually start in northern Michigan, start with mines there, and move the raw materials to the great lakes. They will arrive at the dock, and ford will be able to drive directly from the ground. So Toyota saw this great process of raw materials to finished cars when he arrived at ford. But he also sees a lot of waste. He saw the quality problem and he saw the workers who were not listening. He took a lot of notes and took them back to Japan.
Siegel: but in the early 1950s, the apparently disrupted car company sold 2,500 cars during the normal operation of the second world war. And ford does more than that every day.
MAYNARD: yes. They build about 8,000 cars a day. As a result, the executive from a struggling Japanese car company came in to see that the operation didn’t seem too threatening.
Siegel: a few years later, Toyota tested the U.S. market and tried to sell a failed car here. Where does his confidence come from? At that time – when americans thought Japanese goods meant inferior goods, why did he think he could end up here?
McNade: he has something around him. First, in the 1960s, you had baby boomers entering the market for the first time. And you see people buying thousands of German cars. It reminded him that if they were open to German cars, they might be open to Japanese cars. He moved here to run Toyota’s business, and he found that dealers were looking for something else to sell in addition to the cars coming out of Detroit.
By the late 1960s and early 1970s, you started to care about the environment. When Detroit’s carmakers had to scale back, they had a hard time in the 1970s. But Toyota is already building fuel-efficient cars for the Japanese market and can bring them here.
Siegel: Toyota British was born in September 1913. Is he still working?
McNade: he was in his office in the 90s, wearing a suit and a briefcase. I remember visiting Japan not long ago and saying, Mr. Toyoda, you know what? Everybody says he’s fine. We just met him. So, you know, the company’s outstanding Toyota is that he is setting up car company Toyota ichiro’s first generation of Cousins, like Henry Ford’s first cousin Henry Ford – Henry Ford had just passed away. I just thought it was an incredible moment in the history of cars.
SIEGEL: car writer Micheline Maynard is a contributor to forbes.com. Mickey (ph) Maynard, thank you for talking to us today.
MAYNARD: my pleasure, Robert.