Toyota’s Global Brand Figurehead Shoichiro Toyoda Dead at 97
Third-generation scion of Toyota Motor Corporation Shoichiro Toyoda, who transformed the Japanese manufacturer into a global powerhouse, has died. The 97-year-old honorary chairman is remembered for establishing the Japanese automaker as a worldwide brand. He was the son of Toyota Motor Company Limited founder Kiichiro Toyoda and grandson of Toyota Group founder Sakichi Toyoda.
Kyodo News reports Toyoda died from heart failure on Tuesday, February 14, 2023. He was just two weeks shy of his 98th birthday.
The early life of Shoichiro Toyoda
Although his grandfather’s biography is a staple of Japanese culture, Toyoda never knew him well. In a piece published by Nikkei Asia, Toyoda said that his grandfather died when he was five. He explained that it was only later in his young adult years that he learned of his grandfather’s passion for machinery.
“It seems he was the sort of person who, once immersed in a project, could not do or think about anything else,” Toyoda said. “My father must have inherited this trait, given the way he devoted all his energy to car development.”
Although Toyoda Loom Works—the origin of the Toyota Group—dealt solely with industrial machinery, that would change upon the founder’s death. In 1937, Kiichiro Toyoda and his brother-in-law Rizaburo Toyoda expanded to house an automobile division. Eventually becoming one of the world’s biggest brands, Shoichiro Toyoda’s father would even change the spelling of the automobile company. Reportedly, the move was to garner good luck overseas.
Seven decades of service to ‘The Toyota Way’
Shoichiro Toyoda joined his father’s company as a board member at just 27 years old. He rose in the ranks until he was installed as president of the company’s marketing division in 1981. Such is the point when he would transform the automaker into the powerhouse it is today.
In 1982, Toyota Motor Corporation was created following the merger of the production and sales divisions. Two years later, Shoichiro Toyoda was able to broker a deal with General Motors (GM), launching New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc. as a foothold in North America. While GM enjoyed Toyota’s quality small cars, the Japanese automaker quickly learned how to navigate the U.S. labor environment. In 1989, Toyota established itself as a premium and reliable luxury manufacturer with the Lexus LS 400 in the American market.
As the company’s figurehead, Shoichiro Toyoda was responsible for defining Toyota’s corporate and organizational culture. Dubbed “The Toyota Way,” it defines manufacturing methodology based on continuous innovation and respect for workers. He went on to serve as chairman from 1992 to 1999, becoming the became honorary chairman thereafter.
Toyoda also served as the head of his country’s most prominent business lobbying group, the Japan Business Federation. From 1994 to 1998, he assisted in pulling the country’s economy out of stagnation through administrative and financial reforms.
What’s next for Toyota?
Shoichiro Toyoda’s son, 66-year-old Akio Toyoda, announced last month that he was stepping down as company president. Koji Sato, the 53-year-old boss of Lexus, will succeed him in April to lead the prioritization of EVs.
Toyoda is set to succeed his father as company chairman. Thus, he will continue to build on “The Toyota Way,” maintaining the manufacturer’s celebrated global influence.