Thursday 9th January 1958
Toyota and Datsun make their first appearances in the United States at the Imported Motor Car Show in Los Angeles, California. The first Nissan products were sold in the U.S. under the trade name“Datsun” and the first Toyotas were “Toyopets”. Unofficially, a few Datsuns and Toyopets had arrived in the United States with the return of servicemen stationed in Japan in the mid 1950s. Officially, the first two Toyopets arrived in September of 1957 for testing in the American market. It turned out that the cars were totally unsuitable for North American terrain and roads. While the Toyopets were perfect Taxis in Tokyo, they couldn’t handle the hilly Los Angeles roads. Not only that, but the head of the Toyota USA division didn’t like the name “Toyopet”. He complained that the name “Toy” sounded like a toy, and “toys break”. pet, meantime, brought to mind dogs. Datsun’s premarketing test went considerably better. A Datsun 210 was brought to Los Angeles and tinkered with. The test included an uphill drag race with a Volkswagen Beetle. The Datsun won. Later, the Datsun was damaged in a traffic accident. All told, the Nissan engineers told their Japanese bosses that Datsuns could be sold in the U.S. if they were modified with stronger engines and drivetrains. The vehicles selected for the L.A. Import Show included A Datsun-1000 (PL210) four door sedan. The Toyopet sedan was a slightly larger vehicle. Both vehicles were given “passing” scores on body quality but were judged lacking in the engine departments. It turned out that Datsun had the advantage of showing a smaller car plus a pickup model. The prices and performance were competitive with the top import of the day, the VW Beetle. Dealerships soon were opened as Datsun cars and pickups began appearing on the streets. Meanwhile the Toyopet was given high marks for sturdiness and quality, but it was considered to be overpriced and underpowered for the American market. Sales were lackluster, so Toyota withdrew from the U.S. market in 1960. In 1965, Toyota began anew with a completely redesigned Toyopet Crown that featured a larger engine and more luxury features. The car also came back with a new name, Toyota Corona. The vehicle was the first of a successful line for the company that, years later, renamed the model “Camry”, the Japanese word for “crown”.