the toyota toyopet -- 6/20/14

Today's selection -- from The Quest by Daniel Yergin. Japanese automobiles made their inauspicious debut in the U.S. in the late 1950s:

"An odd and unfamiliar car might have been seen fleetingly on the streets of Los Angeles and San Francisco in the late 1950s. It was Toyota's Toyopet S30 Crown, the first Japanese car to be brought officially to the United States. In Tokyo, Toyopets were used as taxis. But in the United States the Toyopet did not get off to a good start; the first two could not even get over the hills around Los Angeles. It is said that the first car delivered in San Francisco died on the first hill it encountered on the way to inspection. An auto dealer in that city drove it 180 times in reverse around the public library in an effort to promote it, but to no avail. The Toyopet, priced at $1,999, was anything but a hit. Over a four-year period, a total of 1,913 were sold. Other Japanese automakers also started exporting to the United States, but the numbers sold remained exceedingly modest, and the cars themselves were regarded as cheap, not very reliable, oddballs, and starter cars (lacking the vim and panache of what was then the hot import, the Volkswagen Beetle).

"But the explosion in oil prices in the mid-1970s, and corresponding new focus on fuel efficiency, created a port of entry for auto imports, especially from Japan. As a result, those efficient little cars suddenly gained attention and popularity. Over time the Japanese cars began to move upmarket, establishing a growing reputation for quality and reliability.

1958 - 1959 Toyota Toyopet Crown

By the mid-1980s, when oil and gasoline prices collapsed, the share of household budget going for auto fuel shrank back to a small amount. Once again, as in the old days, new-car buyers fixed instead on price, performance, and reliability -- and, of course, on how the car looked. Fuel efficiency plummeted down the list of concerns, if it still made the list at all. But U.S. manufacturers still had to meet their efficiency targets. At the same time, foreign auto makers, particularly the Japanese, were now broadening their appeal and demonstrating their ability to meet the demands of a wider public. They were entrenching themselves in the U.S. market and were pursuing a strategy that made them increasingly less 'foreign.' Japanese auto manufacturers began to put down roots -- opening plants, research-and-development centers, design facilities, and joint ventures around the United States. This helped offset vehement domestic opposition that came both from the Big Three and from unionized autoworkers."


Daniel Yergin


The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World


Penguin Books


Copyright Daniel Yergen 2011


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