On December 7 Toyota held a closing ceremony for its Higashi Fuji plant. Today, all production lines will be shut down and the factory closed for good. The 53-year-old facility has produced some of Toyota’s most iconic models, including the Sports 800, Mark II, AE86, and Century. On the site next February, construction begins on an experimental city of tomorrow to test and develop technologies such as autonomy, robotics, personal mobility, smart homes and artificial intelligence.
Located near Mt Fuji, the Higashi Fuji spans 1.42 million square feet and sits on a 66-acre site. It’s notable for having been built on varying elevations, which is quite unusual for a car factory.
The plant was originally built by Kanto Auto Works, a Toyota subsidiary that started life as a coachbuilder making small-batch cars for Toyota. In 1954, Toyota bought an equity stake in the company, and began expanding it into a full-fledged, large-scale mass producer.
The Higashi Fuji plant began operations in May 1967, having received production of the Sports 800. Soon, a second line opened, producing the then-new Toyota Century. These cars were still largely hand-built, but by 1976 production had ramped up to build mass-produced quantities of the X30 Corona Mark II, known as the Cressida in the US.
That was followed by the X60-generation Mark II in 1980, along with its Cresta and Chaser twins. In 1983, it began building the beloved AE86 Corolla Levin. Primary assembly of the AE86 took place at the Takaoka plant in Toyota City, but the car was so popular that this second line was added. Supposedly, Higashi Fuji-built AE86s have superior panel sealant, keeping the body panels tighter for longer.
Other notable models include the ubiquitous Crown Comfort taxi, the Soarer/Lexus SC, Isis MPV, the Porte/Spade twins, Carina ED, and the new JPN Taxi. Proving it could still coach-build cars upon request, it was also responsible for the limited production Toyota Origin, a tribute to the S30 Crown. Only around 1,000 were made, each one with a hand-formed body, to commemorate 100 million Toyota cars sold.
The Higashi Fuji plant’s claim to fame, though, was hand-building every Century since the model’s inception. It was a special point of pride, and inside there even hung a sign saying, “Welcome to the Century Workshop: The Best Car in the World.” Work on the third-generation Century began in June 2018, and Toyota only allows its best craftsmen to work on the car. But with the factory closing Century production has been transferred, reportedly to the Toyota City mothership.
The rest of the production models will be relocated to other factories. Out of the 1,100 workers at Higashi Fuji, 400 are close enough to retire for good. The other 700 will be transferred elsewhere. In total, the Higashi Fuji plant churned out approximately 7.5 million cars.
The closing of the plant marks the end of yet another era in Toyota history. This one, though, seems especially painful because its replacement, the Toyota Woven City, imagines a world without private car ownership altogether. During the closing ceremony, chairman Takeshi Shirane thanked the employees who supported the operation for more than half a century, saying, “We made improvements every day until the end, and continued to make each car as perfect as we could.”
Another place that will be different once I visit Japan. (Hopefully soon ).
I think Toyota should put photos or videos or posters of workers and designers of this plant in the new city as a memory, so that they never forget what made the existing place worth.
I love that idea!
I hope Toyota can maintain the status of the Century after the move. It’s some much more than the sum of it’s parts. Even though to much of the “outside” world, the Century is not a household name, it’s so much of a crown to Japan’s culture & achievements..
I wouldn’t underestimate how Toyota considers the Century as the ultimate expression of their craftsmanship. They sell millions of Corollas that make up for the extremely low volume the Century is, and can well take their time crafting it, compared to Rolls-Royce or Bentley that just cater to the idle rich and nouveau riche.