American Journey: Humble Beginnings (1957-1969)

Sept/Oct 2017
American Journey: Humble Beginnings (1957-1969)
Toyopet Crown
Toyota’s American adventure got off to a decidedly rocky start. At the time, full-sized gas guzzlers heavily outnumbered small cars. So, in retrospect, perhaps it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that Toyota’s initial entry — the Toyopet Crown — failed to find its footing.
“This thing is underpowered, overpriced and it won’t sell. And the name’s all wrong,” said James McGraw, the sales administrator at Toyota’s first U.S. facility, a converted Rambler dealership in Hollywood, California.
McGraw was right. Americans purchased just 288 of them in 1958. And while sales tripled a year later, Toyota stopped selling the Toyopet in 1960 until it could come up with a vehicle suited to this market.
Meanwhile, the Land Cruiser, and then the Stout pickup, kept operations afloat and helped promote a gradual build-up of a U.S. dealer network.
Johnstons Toyota in Maybrook, New York, was a typical example. It operated for several years as little more than an adjunct to a Texaco station before the gas pumps were replaced by a two-car showroom.
Then came 1965 and the debut of the Corona. Its 90-horsepower engine outgunned the Volkswagen Beetle, the import leader at the time. A heater and radio were standard equipment and air conditioning was an option, a rarity for an entry-level car. Toyota promoted it with its first U.S. television commercials and print ads in such magazines as Life, Time, Newsweek and Look.
Americans loved it. By the close of the decade, Toyota had 792 dealers selling more than 130,000 vehicles annually.
And Detroit took notice. In 1969, Ford introduced the Maverick, the domestics’ first significant response to the imports’ domination of the emerging small-car market.

Cultural Trends


Elvis hit the scene, rocking jailhouses and poodle skirts simultaneously. Jack Kerouac hit the road in 1957, the same year Toyota found its way to America.


In 1967, the (Sean Connery) James Bond film You Only Live Twice showed the world just how cool the Toyota 2000GT was.

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

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