Thursday 31st October 1957
Two months after a three-man Toyota team flew to Los Angeles to survey the U.S. market, Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. was founded in California with Shotaro Kamiya as the first president. Toyota’s first American headquarters were located in an auto dealership in downtown Hollywood, California, and by the end of 1958, 287 Toyopet Crowns and one Land Cruiser had been sold. Over the next decade, Toyota quietly made progress into the Big Three-dominated U.S. car market, offering affordable, fuel-efficient vehicles like the Toyota Corolla as an alternative to the grand gas-guzzlers being produced in Detroit at the time. But the real watershed for Toyota and other Japanese automakers came during the 1970s, when, after enjoying three decades of domination, American automakers had lost their edge.
On top of the severe quality issues that plagued domestic automobiles during the early 1970s, the Arab oil embargoes of 1973 and 1979 created a public demand for fuel-efficient vehicles that the Big Three were unprepared to meet. The public turned to imports in droves, and suddenly Japan’s modest but sturdy little compacts began popping up on highways all across America. The Big Three rushed to produce their own fuel-efficient compacts, but shoddily constructed models like the Chevy Vega and Ford Pinto could not compete with the overall quality of the Toyota Corollas and Honda Civics. Domestic automakers eventually bounced back during the 1980s, but Japanese automakers retained a large portion of the market. In 1997, the Toyota Camry became the best-selling car in America, surpassing even Honda’s popular Accord model.