By Yoko Kubota
TOKYO (Reuters) – Eiji Toyoda, who helped steer Toyota Motor Corp’s global rise and pioneered the automaker’s vaunted production system, died on Tuesday, the Japanese automaker said. He was 100.
Toyoda, cousin of the automaker’s founder, died of heart failure in Toyota City, the company said in a statement.
A taciturn engineer, Toyoda served as president between 1967 and 1982. He was chairman until 1994 and remained an honorary advisor at Toyota up until the time of his death.
Over his career, Toyoda presided over Toyota’s rise in the U.S. market from the launch of the Corolla in the late 1960s to the decision to begin making cars in the United States in the late 1980s.
Toyoda was also instrumental in developing what became the automaker’s much-imitated method of producing cars with as little waste as possible and continual quality improvements, a system that became known as the “Toyota Way”.
In 1950, company founder Kiichiro Toyoda sent Eiji, a graduate of the University of Tokyo, to Ford Motor Co’s massive Rouge Plant to learn about car making from the company that had pioneered mass production.
In a story that is still shared at Toyota training sessions, Toyoda returned to Japan impressed with U.S. materials and machinery but convinced that he could make improvements to Ford’s world-famous production system.
“Japan’s automobile industry facilities and engineers are good but our machine tools are inferior. If we can solve this problem, we can manufacture good and economic vehicles that are equal to America’s,” Toyoda wrote after his month and a half of training at Ford’s major factories.
At the time of his death, Toyoda was being treated at a hospital the company had first founded as a clinic for its factory workers in 1938.