Automotive: Shoichiro Toyoda, son of Toyota founder, dies at 97

Shoichiro Toyoda, the son of Toyota Motor Corp founder and father of current chief executive Akio Toyoda, died on Tuesday of heart failure, the company said. He was 97.

Born on Feb. 27, 1925, Shoichiro Toyoda paved the way for the Japanese automaker to grow into one of the most globally recognized brands. The son of Toyota founder Kiichiro Toyoda, Shoichiro Toyoda was named a managing director in 1961 for his endeavors in improving product quality.

Toyoda, a third-generation scion of the founding family who inherited its stake in the business, is credited with establishing a culture of quality control that helped Toyota evolve into a world-leading automaker. He was also responsible for pushing Toyota, which had started life as a loom manufacturer, to produce vehicles overseas.

He became executive vice president in 1972 and in 1981, he was named president of Toyota’s sales organization. Following a merger of production and sales organizations a year later, he took over the helm of the newly integrated Toyota Motor Corp, serving as chairman of the board from 1992 to 1999.

A grandson of Sakichi Toyoda, who founded the Toyota group, and son of Kiichiro Toyoda, the founder of Toyota’s predecessor Toyota Motor Co., Shoichiro Toyoda joined the company as a board member at just 27 years of age.

After serving as president of Toyota Motor Sales Co. under the Toyota group, he became the first president of what is now Toyota Motor Corp., a new company formed after the merger of its manufacturing and sales companies in 1982. He held the position until 1992 when he became chairman.

Toyoda propelled overseas production on the back of Japan’s economic growth, with Toyota, headquartered in Aichi Prefecture, setting up a joint venture with General Motors Co. in the United States in 1984.

Plants in Kentucky and Canada were built in 1986, significantly boosting the company’s production capacity. It was also in the 1980s when Toyota actively expanded beyond the North American market.

The auto giant currently has production sites all over the world, including Europe, China and Africa.

Following the family tradition of launching a new business each generation, Toyoda focused his efforts on the housing business. His grandfather Sakichi had started the manufacturing of looms and his father Kiichiro the production of automobiles.

The Toyoda-initiated business, known as Toyota Housing Corp., is now a key unit of Prime Life Technologies Corp., a joint venture between Toyota, Panasonic Holdings Corp, and Mitsui & Co.

It has played a major role as Toyota tries to build next-generation cities that integrate electrified cars with housing.

Toyoda served as the head of the Japan Business Federation, the country’s biggest business lobby, for four years through 1998, grappling with reinvigorating a stagnant Japanese economy and carrying out administrative and financial reforms.

Even after leaving the board in 2009, Toyoda continued to have a heavy influence over the company, which is now one of the world’s largest automakers. Toyoda had been honorary chairman since 1999.

Toyoda was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in the United States in 2007.

The company plans to hold a farewell gathering at a later date, although details have not been decided, it said.

His son and current president, Akio Toyoda, 66, announced last month he will promote Koji Sato, the 53-year-old head of the auto group’s Lexus brand operation, to succeed him in April, with Toyoda to become chairman.