Although we’ve been harping about Toyota USA’s upcoming 50th birthday, this year is actually Toyota Motor Corporation’s 70th anniversary, established as a spinoff of Toyoda Automatic Loom in 1937. There’s a new book coming out in November called How Toyota Became #1 by David Magee, which charts the company’s meteoric rise over the past seven decades.
Businessweek columnist Keith McFarland recently previewed the book, noting that curiosity seems to be one of the key distinguishing aspects of Toyota’s success. McFarland mentions that Sakichi Toyoda, founder of Toyota Automatic Loom and father of TMC founder Kiichiro Toyoda, got his start trying to improve the efficiency of weaving looms, which led to over 100 patents and the Toyota manufacturing empire. He then goes onto say “Not content just to build the best looms in Japan, Toyoda traveled to Europe, toured leading Western loom makers, and carried key ideas back” and that’s the extent of the column’s depth.
However, Autoblog‘s Chris Tutor picked up on the editorial, saying that Toyoda sought to create the world’s best looms “by checking out other company’s looms around the world and using their advancements to improve his owncompany’s [sic] products.”
Hold on, here. Tutor completely neglects to mention that Toyoda first spent years developing looms in Japan, and only after getting many of his own patents did he venture out to the West to see what other loommakers were up to. Instead, Tutor makes it seem as if Toyoda first examined other looms before even starting his own company.
In actuality, Toyoda already invented the world’s first non-stop shuttle change automatic loom, the Type G (pictured), in 1924. Toyoda already had 50 other inventions under his belt and several of them were combined to form the automation and safety features of the Type G.
McFarland says “a visit to a Detroit auto plant in the 1920s inspired [Kiichiro Toyoda] to move a renamed Toyota into the car business.” Correct! But what was he doing in Detroit? The column doesn’t say. In fact, Toyoda stopped there on his way back to Japan from the UK where he had just sold automatic loom patents to Platt Brothers & Co. in 1929 for the price of 100,000 British pounds. After seeing Ford’s then state-of-the-art River Rouge plant, completed in 1928 and the biggest factory in the world at the time, Toyoda was convinced that he could do even better, and established Toyota Motor Corporation a few years after returning home.
It’s easy to regurgitate the same old “Japan copies everything” line, but come on, this is 2007 (although you wouldn’t know it from reading some of the comments in the Autoblog post). The truth is that in every country, in every industry, competition is so fierce that everyone cherry picks ideas from everyone else. GM, Toyota, and every other carmaker buys their competitors’ products and tears them apart to learn. That’s just how it’s done. And yes, some Japanese firms did copy established Western companies, but not all. Let’s give credit where it’s due.
Anyway, before another misconstrued “fact” got circulated, we felt obligated to nip it in the bud. Or attempt to, at least. Autoblog gets millions of hits per day compared to our five, but we’ll continue to do our best to dispel these kinds of myths.