By YURI KAGEYAMA
AP Business Writer
TOKYO (AP) — Shoichiro Toyoda, who as a son of the company’s founder oversaw Toyota’s expansion into international markets, has died. He was 97.
Toyoda, the company’s honorary chairman, died Tuesday of heart failure, Toyota Motor Corp. said in a statement.
He was the father of Akio Toyoda, who recently announced he was stepping down as president and chief executive to become its chairman. Shoichiro was the eldest son of Kiichiro Toyoda, who founded Toyota in 1937.
After becoming Toyota’s president in 1982, Shoichiro Toyoda helped direct Toyota’s transformation into a global automaker, especially in the vital U.S. market, where its brand became synonymous with quality, durability, cost performance and engineering finesse.
Both father and son experienced the difficult years of “Japan-bashing,” when powerful Japanese exporters like Toyota were blamed for taking away American blue-collar jobs.
The company opted to become a member of the U.S. auto community, showing that Toyota was an asset, creating jobs and value for the American people.
With his brother Tatsuro, Shoichiro Toyoda helped pave the way for Toyota to set up manufacturing facilities in North America. The company formed a joint venture with General Motors in 1983. It was called New United Motor Manufacturing Inc., or NUMMI, and its first vehicle rolled out in 1984 in Freemont, California.
The company relied on the founding family’s legacy and historical charisma to tide it through times of crisis, although Toyota has had many chief executives who were not members of its founding family.
Shoichiro Toyoda was inducted into the U.S. Automotive Hall of Fame in 2007, honored for his achievements in cementing “Toyota’s reputation as one of the most recognized and celebrated auto manufacturers in the world.”
He was graduated from the prestigious Nagoya University in 1947 with a degree in engineering and joined Toyota in 1952.
It’s said that he earned the respect of fellow employees by working right beside them in factories. That underscored Toyota’s vision of valuing the workplace, what’s on the ground, or “genba,” as critical for morale, efficient production, innovation and quality.
Toyota’s beginnings were humble. Shoichiro Toyoda ’s grandfather, Sakichi Toyoda, invented the automatic loom in a backyard shed, mainly because he wanted to help his mother, who often was weaving in their home.
People were skeptical when Kiichiro Toyoda said he wanted to start building cars in 1933. Back then, Japan only had imported cars like GMs and Fords.
Today, “The Toyota Way,” a production method that empowers each worker for quality control, is viewed as the best in the auto industry. Toyota, which makes the Prius hybrid, Camry sedan and Lexus luxury models, is among the world’s top automakers in vehicle sales.
A funeral for Shoichiro Toyoda was being held for close family. A “farewell” event in his honor was being planned for a later date, according to Toyota. Details of other surviving family members were not immediately available.
Yuri Kageyama is on Twitter https://twitter.com/yurikageyama
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