American Journey: Robust Growth (1989-2007)

by Dan Miller and Dan Nied
Sept/Oct 2017
Toyota really kicked it into gear over the next two decades, leading off with the debut of the Lexus brand and the LS 400 and ES 250 in 1989. It took Lexus just three years to become the No. 1 luxury import brand.

The RAV4 was introduced in 1990 and continues to be a top-selling crossover.
Toyota, though, remained the core of the business. In 1996, it pioneered what would become a crossover craze with the U.S. introduction of the original RAV4. It invested $2 billion to build new plants in Indiana and West Virginia.
Toyota was ahead of its time, launching what might be the most iconic and meaningful car of the decade — the Prius, first globally in 1997 and in the U.S. in 2000. Other new Toyota models in North America at the time included the Avalon, Sienna, Tacoma and Tundra.

Lexus struck crossover SUV gold with the RX. It also released the LX full-size SUV and the GS sedan.

Toyota also said hello to Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Indiana.

In 1997, Camry became the best-selling car in America — a title it still holds to this day. Yaris came aboard. And in 2003, Toyota launched the Scion brand to attract younger buyers, experimenting with pure pricing and personalization. Scion sales topped the million-mile mark over its 13-year run, including the iconic xB.
By 2006, annual sales topped 2.5 million vehicles. Lexus outpaced every luxury nameplate, import and domestic. So, Toyota set its sights on the 3 million mark, expanding its product line with such models as the groundbreaking Prius, Sequoia, Highlander, Yaris and, in 2007, a full-size Tundra pickup assembled at a $1 billion plant in San Antonio.
And motorsports went all in on NASCAR, a high-profile sign that Toyota had arrived as a full-fledged U.S. car company. So far, we’ve won more than 100 NASCAR races.

Camry NASCAR racing kicked off in 2007.
Cultural Trends

Image credit: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Getty Images

Nirvana and Pearl Jam made the early ’90s grungy. Friends made the rest of the decade, well, friendly. And Seinfeld made the decade about nothing. came online and Apple released the iMac in 1998, its cute colors and quirky shape making the internet a not-so-scary place.

SUVs became more popular, the golden age of minivans was upon us and jellybean-shaped sedans took over.

The 2000s was a new millennium and a decade marked by tragedy — 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the Iraq War. But it also saw the advent of social networking. MySpace was weird, but addictive. Facebook started at Harvard, spread to colleges around America, and now your grandma can’t stop poking you. (Hi Grandma!)

Girls wore UGGs, guys wore cargo shorts (which should never have gone out of style for their convenience alone). Outkast was popular. So were boy bands. NSync’s hearts were torn, Backstreet Boys wanted it that way. Cars? More SUVs. More hybrids. Speed was big, thanks to the Fast and Furious movie franchises.

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

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