Nov. 26, 1973

The Right Car at the Right Time



TOKYO―When the Toyota Corolla recently set a 3-million unit cumulative production record to reconfirm its position as Japan's largest selling (and the world's 4th largest selling) car, company executives quietly congratulated each other on the results of some rather remarkable managerial foresight.

Only 3 other cars have achieved higher cumulative production: The United States' Chevrolet and Ford and West Germany's famous Volkswagen "Beetle," in that order. Although only 4th-ranked internationally, the Toyota Corolla has long held first place in its home market of Japan.

It was in the mid-sixties that key executives of the Toyota Group met together to plan long-term vehicle production and marketing strategy. For efficiency and many other reasons, the group is uniquely composed of 2 main corporations: Toyota Motor Company and Toyota Motor Sales Company.

Backed-up by masses of research data covering the economic outlook for Japan and potentially major export markets, the executives of both Toyota Group companies agreed that the time was ripe to launch a new-concept, sub-compact "people's car," designed for families. It was a daring initiative fated eventually to become one of the success stories of the industry.

Working in great secrecy, they assembled a task force made up of top-ranking engineers, designers and technicians from both Toyota Group companies. The concept was sketched-in for the team, a mandate was given to come up with a "truly new car," and full-scale development work was given top priority.

Shotaro Kamiya, President of Toyota Motor Sales Company, stressed in the planning sessions that small cars with engine displacements of 1,000cc to 1,500cc would undoubtedly soon dominate the "popular" car market in Japan (as the direct result of a rapidly expanding economy and rising affluence). Based on other premises, he also forecast a significant overseas market for such a vehicle.

Tatsuo Hasegawa, who led the engineering team which designed the Corolla (and who is now Managing Director in charge of Product Planning of Toyota Motor Company), was given the task of putting most of the performance and driving comfort of a medium sized car into a quality smaller car.

Fuel conservation (without affecting engine power) was also a primary target. There were 2 reasons for this: more efficient fuel consumption would automatically reduce exhaust gas emissions and any related air pollution; and, looking to the future, lower fuel requirements would mean a monetary saving and a possible solution to possible gasoline shortages.

The new car had to have ample space for a modest family, be built to reflect a certain status level, be a vehicle in which the driver could have pride of ownership, and yet be relatively inexpensive.

Working speedily, the team created a new class of small car which incorporated all the design objectives, as well as features highly suitable for overseas markets. Prototypes and all individual parts were tested to destruction round-the-clock before the new class of vehicle was approved for production.

A new and ultra-modern plant was rushed to completion in September 1966, in order to produce the Corolla and be fully prepared for the start of the nation's program of capital liberalization. On September 24, 1966, the first Corolla rolled off the assembly line of the new Takaoka plant and domestic sales started a month later.

President Kamiya enunciated the company's hopes for the new vehicle at its introduction: "We want the Corolla to become the new 'family car' of the world."

The 2-door Corolla was an instant hit, with 5,385 units sold within a month after its introduction. Toyota had forecast the public's requirement and taste with remarkable accuracy. In May 1967, a 4-door sedan and a van were added to the series. By December 1968 (just 2-years after its introduction), monthly production reached 30,000.

By the time output reached 42,000 a month―in April 1970―the Takaoka plant had become the largest mass-production facility of its type in Japan. One million Corollas had been completed there by March 1970 and two million by April 1972. Today, with a monthly production capacity of 65,000 vehicles, it is still the largest factory in Japan.

Exports to Australia began in November 1966 and to the United States in April 1968. In starting U.S. distribution, Toyota drew on its earlier experience there with compacts. The sales of European and Japanese-made compacts had been somewhat influenced when U.S. firms released their own similar models.

President Kamiya cannily forecast the U.S. market situation from the beginning and expressed strong doubts on the possibility of an early move by major American manufacturers into the sub-compact field. He reasoned that "Cost considerations and other factors will keep the U.S. car makers from producing smaller cars than Toyota's Corona. This means that Corolla will face no competition from such manufacturers and will actually be creating an entirely new market."

Even at the early development stage Kamiya felt strongly that "Corolla should eventually be a mainstay model in the U.S. market." The company suited action to words by targeting marketing efforts at the "second and third car market."

Maintaining impetus, Toyota introduced a number of new models in the Corolla series: Deluxe and Special versions of the 2-door sedan at an early date, the 2-door SL in April 1968, the Sprinter* in May 1968, a 4-door SL in October 1968, a 2-door (Hi-Deluxe) sedan and a 4-door sedan Deluxe in February 1969.

Toyota's campaign to rapidly increase safety features on its production vehicles was first reflected in the Corolla series in August 1969, when a number of new safety measures were adopted. A newly-developed 1,200cc engine was simultaneously mounted on all models in the series.

The fast-paced Corolla advance was maintained hen, in May 1970, full model changes were made on the Corolla 1200 and Corolla 1200, Coupe. A new model, with a 1400cc engine, was added at that time. By March 1971, domestic registration had passed 1-million units.

In March 1972, new 1600cc models were added to sustain the remarkable momentum. On October 31, 1973, the 3-million production level was surpassed.

If, as anticipated, the present energy crisis results in a continuing expansion of demand for such advanced small cars as the Corolla, Toyota management's business acumen and vision will be more than amply demonstrated.

With a background of 40 years in small car production, and responsible to a large degree for establishing the concept internationally, Toyota's 3-million unit Corolla success now presents only one problem―"what should be done for an encore?"

*Available domestically, the Sprinter is a "Personal Car" (built on a Corolla chassis) which incorporates many sports and racing car features. Its introduction added a new dimension to the series and its sports image attracted a number of younger drivers.

Downloads (Images)

  • The TOYOTA COROLLA is the first single model of Japan to attain the 3-million level of cumulative production, and is now the fourth largest selling single model in the world. November, 1973
    The TOYOTA COROLLA is the first single model of Japan to attain the 3-million level of cumulative production, and is now the fourth largest selling single model in the world. November, 1973