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|FIRST GENERATION CROWN DEVELOPMENT STORY
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Chapter 1 – The Start of the Crown Development Plan
January 4th, 1952 (Showa 27) was the day that development of the Crown started. At the
Toyota automotive plant in Koromo, Aichi Prefecture, people that came to work after New Year’s
vacation are seen exchanging New Year’s greetings here and there. Nowadays, the name of this
place has been changed to Toyota City, but before the war in ’38 (Showa 13) close to 490 acres
were purchased and the factory built was none other than Toyota’s headquarters. During the
war, the Toyota factory was bombed by American forces a day before the end of the war, but the
damage was small, and the building and machinery were largely unscathed.
After the war, in order to tackle their revival with renewed vigor, the factory floor was redone, all
new machines were bought and installed to increase production, and the layout of the inside of
the factory was changed to be one section, while traces of the original building remained. At a
site separated from the roads, the engineering building (Technical Center) was built 2 years
later, but a full-blown test course was still not built. After that, all kinds of facilities and
buildings were added. Today the feeling is a bit different, but that’s just from the flow of time.
However, to get through the chaos that accompanied losing the war, the factory was filled with
energy. The lack of transportation was severe, with a high demand for trucks, while passenger
car production was very limited, but the lack of materials gradually eased up, and a system to
increase production was set up. Also, the American military, which had a great effect on the
revival of the economy after the war, required a special procurement for the Korean War. With
that, Toyota’s financial condition continued to greatly improve.
In September of the previous year, a peace treaty was signed in San Francisco that came into
effect on April 28 of this year, which decided that Japan would finally begin to advance as an
independent country. On that previous year (Showa 26) only the NHK broadcast it on the radio,
and it became the creation of the station as a private station with commercials; after that, NHK’s
New Year’s Eve Kouhaku song battle started as an annual event. In America, the McCarthy
whirlwind (the so-called red-baiting) was sweeping the country, and Japan also had a similar red
purge, with the country entering a period of conservative politics after the war.
Street television [where large crowds would gather around tv’s on the street] gained popularity,
and washing machines began to be sold. Obtaining such household appliances was everybody’s
modest dream. “Luxury is the enemy” was said during the war, where everything was
continually sacrificed. Beginning at the same time as the war came to an end, after finally being
released from the battle with poverty and hunger, it was most people’s desire for life to improve.
So then, placed in the one corner on the west side of the courtyard of the Koromo factory,
having a roof shaped like a saw-tooth, was the car body factory with the stereotypical factory
image. Inside the high-ceilinged factory, very large body construction machines and press molds
are the first things you see, then there are many lathes and small machines installed, raw
materials like iron plates are placed here and there. Since management is attentive, there isn’t a
disorderly vibe, but to a person not used to seeing it, it looks like the machines play the main
role, while all the people working around them do nothing more than play the supporting roles.
However, naturally, the machines, no matter how big they are, are at the service of the people
In a room partitioned off from this factory’s central path, was the desk of this factory’s assistant
director, NAKAMURA Kenya. 14 years after entering the company, Nakamura finally achieved
his leadership role at the body factory. His main job was, in order to increase production
capabilities, think about what kind of work should be done on which type of machine, and also
how the employees could work the most efficiently. Nakamura, an engineer at heart, loved to
make things from when he was a child. He improved the welding machine and had a burning
desire to make presses and press molds
Nakamura, seen as an “eccentric,” did not like things like New Year’s greetings and formal
events. If people said “Happy New Year” [this phrase is difficult to translate, literally says “今年も
よろしくお願いします”] and bowed their head, he would awkwardly say something like “Oh…
thanks,” giving a meaningless response you’d understand. He would examine machines, face
the drawing board, and discuss how the company should continue in the future with his
friends; it was like Nakamura to just be an ordinary guy. Amidst busy engineers wearing neat
neckties under their work clothes, Nakamura always appeared to be casually working. Except
for the occasions that ceremonial events couldn’t be avoided, you would seldom see him wearing
a tie. Nakamura had blue eyes, rare for a Japanese, and with those looks, it was said that he
looked like the allied commander of WWII Pacific Defenses, and who then became president,
Eisenhower and Hollywood actor Yul Brynner known from movies like “The King and I.” He had
short hair, spoke in a big voice, and had a big boned, large frame; no matter where he was in
the factory, he always stood out. As a worker in the organization, he was known for his unique
existence, moving at his own pace, and having with a strong self-assertion without
thoughtlessly agreeing with other people.
On this day, after finishing lunch, when Nakamura returned to his seat, he found a memo left
there telling him to come to the site director’s office. Separating the factory and two paths, the
director and others had their offices in the business department on the opposite side, but Eiji
TOYODA and Shoichi SAITO [not sure on his first name, it may be different], the two executive
directors who controlled the engineering department, were in a little wooden building a small
distance away, where there were many site directors' offices. The positively-acting Nakamura,
who had much contact with the director’s colleagues, came and went often to the engineering
director’s desk in the site director’s office. Because of that, he was thinking that this time also
would just be a small business meeting, probably a talk about the status of the body factory
this year, as he opened the door. Eiji and Saito were waiting with sullen faces.
Toyota, as you know, is the Toyoda family’s company. The original president was Rizaburo
TOYODA, the adopted son-in-law of Sakichi TOYODA, called Japan’s king of invention, who built
his fortune with automatic looms. But, the one who essentially made Toyota was the 2nd
president, Sakichi’s oldest son Kiichiro TOYODA. Eiji was his cousin. Eiji, born in 1913 (Taisho
2), was 38 at this time, 18 years younger than Kiichiro. Kiichiro’s oldest boy, who later
succeeded Eiji as president, Shoichiro, also entered into the company. With this kind of
relationship between everyone, Toyota family members were just called Eiji-san and Shoichiro-
san. After Eiji graduated form Tokyo University’s [called Todai for short] Mechanical Engineering
department, he soon entered Toyota Motors; in 1945 (Showa 20), at the young age of 32, he
succeeded Kiichiro as company director and became the one essentially in charge of the
Saito, who helped Eiji, graduated from Tohoku University after studying metallurgy and
continued research, but he also entered Toyota, pulled in by Kiichiro. Following Kiichiro Toyoda’
s retirement in 1950 (Showa 25), Ishida Taizou, who assumed the title of president, left
everything from the engineering department, from automotive design/development to
manufacturing, completely to the discretion of Eiji and Saito.
Inside the site director’s office, are the desks of Eiji and Saito. Also inside, there is a long table
with benches facing each other placed on either side. Far from a sofa you’d find in the reception
rooms of today’s businesses and director’s offices where you receive guests, it’s a plain wooden
bench. Nakamura sat down on this seat facing Eiji and Saito. What Eiji said next wasn’t what
For a single person to own a car, outside of very wealthy people or entrepreneurs, was
something that would be unlikely to ever cross your mind. Until this time, the passenger cars
that Toyota produced all used truck frames, so the comfort and ride quality of these cars weren’
t very good. Since the demand for private-use cars was very small, and the majority used taxis,
the cars they made only needed to be sturdy to sell well. However, it was becoming so that they
couldn’t just keep making the same kind of car. Along with the economic recovery, the country
went from a period where if you built it, you could sell it, to a period that demanded more than
just competitive quality. Therefore, they wanted to develop a real passenger car, something
totally different from the cars they made up to now. As for Nakamura, they wanted him to be
the person in charge of the development project, from the planning of the car to production.
The passenger car engine that Toyota developed at that time was the S-type 1000cc engine that
was shared with trucks, but starting the year before, they started development of the 1500cc R-
type engine. The development plan for the passenger car the RH, equipped with this engine,
was also progressing, and they expected to sell it by the next year. This car, following in the
line of current cars, also used a truck frame, but demand for use as a taxi was anticipated. The
SD, SF and following cars all had their new bodies made by body makers associated with
Toyota. With the line of cars planned, they decided on a plan to mass produce this concept
passenger car at a new main factory [called the Honsha facility]. However, the plan for this new
car was the big project whose outcome would totally influence the future of Toyota.
Car design from this period was done in the engineering department’s design section, whose
drawings are made into parts and used on a test car, made in the testing section. To make the
car successful during production, test runs are performed on a test car and improvements are
made. The test runs are done by the testing section. Through this process, the development of
such a car is done by all the sections of the engineering department.
The car body factory where Nakamura was a vice-director was the so-called place of production,
meaning that it was that factory’s job to make the body of the developed car. Therefore,
although he was an engineer, car design was an unrelated job for Nakamura, so being put in
charge of the development of a new car was a completely unheard-of affair.
Yet, Nakamura didn’t rotate jobs over to the design section. It was a position that didn’t
previously exist at Toyota up to then, it was given the title of “Vehicle Development Shusa.” [the
term Shusa will be explained later] In Toyota at that time, the title “Shusa” was used in cases
where the chief’s line of work was associated with a different organization. However, the use of
“Shusa” for Nakamura was special.
A shusa, to use a simpler term, is a project leader. However, people involved in this project
weren’t separated from their various positions and grouped together, it was decided that people
involved with the project would stay in the positions they had. In short, a shusa is someone
who makes people from other departments and sections work for their personal objectives. This
unique shusa system of Toyota’s was created here, but I want to touch on this again in more
detail in a later chapter.
Nakamura couldn’t hide his surprise over what Eiji and Saito said. Since it was decided that the
entire car, including the car body, would be produced at the Honsha plant, for Nakamura to
even be involved with this project, much less become the chief of development of the whole car,
including the chassis as well as the body, was truly shocking.
Car makers everywhere at the time were focused on producing trucks; no one was planning to
develop a true passenger car. Or possibly, it’s possible that Toyota didn’t know about some
development that was happening, but if they started at that point, it would likely be too late. A
huge sum, climbing into the trillions, was invested; for this project that developed a car different
from previous ones, people were needed that show strong leadership. Because they were going
somewhere that had never been tread on, these had to be people who personally took the lead
and blazed a trail. Eiji and Saito looked over all of Toyota and chose Nakamura.
Nakamura had already for some time been advocating that Toyota should be more active in
starting to make a passenger car. However, development of a car takes a lot of time and money,
and it goes without saying that it comes with great risk. Therefore, the thought that the
company operation of focusing on truck production was a safe plan was deeply rooted
throughout Toyota. Especially considering that two years earlier Toyota’s labor union
experienced problems with job cuts, with car development as something the engineering
department people did for fun, many people thinking that focusing on that kind of thing would
once again cause problems with the company management.
Nakamura refuted this head-on. Car makers from now on should focus on developing cars, but
companies who didn’t have that kind of development power wouldn’t progress that way, he
thought. In reality, though, passenger car production was about 80% of total production in
America, and in Europe it comprised more than 50 percent. Thinking of the future, his
assertion that they needed to actively invest in establishing an automobile mass production
system was unfolding.
Nakamura even emphasized this point to OONO Shuji [not sure on this name], the prominent
executive director of the business group at the left hand of president Ishida. This was about 2
years before the plan for the crown started. After listening carefully to this assertion of
Nakamura’s, Oono asked, “How much is the development of this car that you talk about going to
Nakamura immediately answered “Probably about 2.5 billion yen.” At the time, they only had
6000 employees, less than 10% the scale of Toyota today.
“I don’t think Toyota of today can’t come to grips with something costing that much, you know?
You need a more realistic figure,” Oono replied with a look of shock. However, Nakamura didn’t
step down one bit. “No, if we don’t develop this car, the company will go bankrupt, and
eventually we have to realize this.”
Nakamura didn’t lower his tone after that, either. “To say ‘Don’t build the car’ is to destroy
Toyota; it’s the same as saying it’s ok for Shepherd’s-purse to grow in the Toyota factory.”
[Shepherd’s purse is a type of weed/flower that gets its name from the triangular shaped seed
pods (picture here). In Japan, the name pen-pen grass (ぺんぺん草) is used because of the seed
pod’s similarity to a Shamisen’s pick. Pen-pen is the sound that the pick makes when playing.]
This was one of Nakamura’s unique qualities: there were people who would look shocked as if
thinking “He’s still talking!” but Nakamura didn’t care.
Having given those reasons, when Eiji and Saito were informed of the talk about the plan for a
new car, they figured they should give it to Nakamura, since it was his idea. Because of that, he
said things like “I can’t do something like that.” and “There must be someone better for the
job.” At Toyota, there was a tendency for people to be given the jobs that they take the initiative
to speak out about. It’s like the phrase says, “Start from high places.” [the phrase “隗より始めよ”
is used here]
Nakamura, having finished listening to their brief story, asked “Do the big shareholders know
about this plan?” Eiji quickly understood that “big shareholders” meant former president
TOYODA Kiichiro. “Of course,” Eiji replied.
Nakamura was wondering how serious this really was. While thinking about it, he started
wondering, and wanted to be sure of to what degree this had progressed to, and whether it was
something he would have to give all his strength to from the start. That plan, by all rights, was
so important that executive director Eiji had unified the engineering department and was
making him the chief. Of course, in the end, Eiji would probably take responsibility, but with
that in mind, the goal was for the person in charge to designate someone else as the one in
control, because there’s the possibility that along the way, an interruption might come from
somewhere, Nakamura thought.
Toyota and Nissan both became great automakers, but Toyota was known as the original
Toyoda family company. Before and during the war at Toyota, that was especially so, and to
Nakamura, having been with the company since that time, that idea hadn’t changed for him. By
his thinking, it didn’t matter what Eiji and Saito’s plans were, if the retired Kiichiro voiced his
differences, those plans could change. In June of 1950 (Showa 25), Kiichiro quit the role of
president under the auspices of taking responsibility for labor strikes. It was expected that his
successor, Ishida, would be like a relief pitcher, and later on Kiichiro could come back. Even
Ishida himself, following Kiichiro’s ideas, wanted to work towards healthy financial standings
and then step back. Nakamura recognized that the will of Kiichiro was the will of Toyota, and
Eiji and Saito were carrying that will out. Therefore, Nakamura was worried about whether or
not Kiichiro agreed with him becoming chief. In short, if Kiichiro agreed with it, Nakamura got
the sense that they were telling him to take this project seriously! Of course, just from the way
Eiji was talking, he got the sense to proceed with this project seriously.
After some time had passed, Nakamura asked, “What should I do now?” By asking this
question, Nakamura understood what Eiji and Saito were asking of him, and agreed to his
responsibilities as chief. All along, it seemed like Eiji never thought of rejecting Nakamura. Since
he was young, he thought about the company, and when he made up his mind, he wouldn’t say
what he decided. After thinking about it, he talked to Saito and nominated Nakamura. How
should his decision-making be put to work for the company? Eiji was always aware of it, and he
spoke out and acted on it.
The only thing they had decided was that the 1500cc R-type engine would be used in a small
If you look at the developments of the time, passenger cars were mainly made to be taxis, but in
the near future, the possibility that the share of personal-use cars would increase was high.
However, since it was impossible make plans for something with no present demand, it became
a passenger car that was assumed would be used as a taxi. In that case, what kind of car
should they make?
Eiji and Saito didn’t say anything definitive, because it didn’t make sense for them to have an
idea and say, “How about if we make it like this?” They didn’t want to restrict the direction of
the car with hastily made proposals. The Toyota way is for the person taking responsibility to
be able to freely research, thinking about and decide themselves.
At the time, since model changes were decided about every 4 years, development time was
already determined, but at any rate, this was the first mass-produced passenger car
development. If you think about the developments of the other car makers, you want to make
things as soon as possible, but if you hastily make the car, problems start happening, and you
worry that you set a low standard for passengers cars. For Toyota, it was a project with many
unknown factors. The outlook wasn’t set, but the goal of a development time of ‘about 3 years’
was set. Of course, to Nakamura, 3 years was an unknown amount of time, and he wondered if
he could really do it in that time. However, at any rate, he had to work on it with all his strength.
Nakamura talked to Eiji and Saito in the director’s office for about an hour. Nakamura, returning
to the body factory after talking to them, went back to his desk as if nothing had happened and
continued his regular work. He didn’t tell anyone about the meeting, so for a while almost no
one knew that plans to build a new passenger car had started. They only found out after
executive director Eiji formally announced it.