American Journey: Gaining Traction (1970-1988)

by Dan Miller and Dan Nied
Sept/Oct 2017
American Journey: Gaining Traction (1970-1988)
1981 Celica Supra
Once Toyota got rolling, it soon got up to full speed. In 1972, it sold its 1 millionth vehicle in the U.S. Just four years after that, it passed the 2 million milestone. And it took only two more years to reach 3 million in cumulative sales.
In part, the growth was fueled by the 1973 oil crisis, leading to gasoline shortages and price increases. But it took a second oil shock, in 1979, to shift small efficient cars from novelty to necessity.
Toyota had the right product at the right time. Increasingly, it also had the right message. Classic advertising campaigns in the 1970s, such as “You asked for it, you got it” and “Oh, what a feeling!” connected with a car-buying public that wasn’t accustomed to an automaker that actually paid close attention to their needs and wants.
A few classic Toyota models showed their face in the ’70s. The Celica got sporty in, the Cressida came aboard, while the Supra and Tercel took to the nation’s highways.

And the Calty design studio opened, playing a major influence in Toyota’s design going forward.

Meanwhile, Toyota began to lay the groundwork for local production. In 1983, it entered into a joint agreement with General Motors to build Corollas in California. In 1986, it broke ground on its first stand-alone U.S. manufacturing plant to build Camrys in Kentucky, investing $800 million and creating 3,000 jobs. The first unit rolled off the line in 1988.

Lexus named luxury division.


Cultural Trends

Whether you were into Led Zeppelin or Donna Summer, the ’70s was a pretty fun decade. Not only was the music amazing, the clothes alone are enough to take a time-traveling field trip. A group of upstart rebels took on Darth Vader’s empire in 1977, just a year after Rocky went the distance against Apollo Creed, proving he wasn’t just another bum from the neighborhood.

In the ‘80s, people went to the movies to see the cutest extra-terrestrial ever in 1982. And, somehow, even the least cool among us identified with Ferris Bueller. Everyone freaked out over Thriller, and the Nintendo Entertainment System gave us 8-bits of awesome.

Fashion wasn’t the greatest in the ’80s. Basically, you could get by on loose and puffy. And the looser and puffier your clothes were, the cooler you were. And that seems a little odd.

Gas was $1.03 per gallon, which seems about right. So, you didn’t have to pay too much to drive around town blasting Hungry Like the Wolf on the radio. Rap like Run-DMC was mainstream now. You might see a Camry gas pedal pressed to the metal by Adidas tennis shoes, sans laces.

Toyota's Historical Timeline
American Journey: Humble Beginnings (1957-1969)
American Journey: Gaining Traction (1970-1988)
American Journey: Robust Growth (1989-2007)
American Journey: New Challenges/One Toyota (2008-present)
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