The world’s largest automaker, Toyota has come a long way in its nearly 80-year history. The company launched its first passenger car, the Model AA, in 1936, copying the body design of Chrysler’s landmark Airflow and the engine of a 1933 Chevrolet. Toyota then suffered several challenges, including a financial crisis in 1950. However, when consumers wanted smaller, more fuel-efficient automobiles during the 1973 oil crisis, the company responded. The Toyota Corona and Toyota Corolla offered basic features and acted as the company’s new entry-level cars. Toyota also launched the Cressida, with the fuel efficiency consumers desired but space and amenities like air conditioning and AM-FM radio.
During the 1980s and 1990s, Toyota gradually added more models ranging in price, size, and features. In 1982, the company introduced the Camry-a four-door, mid-sized car that offered more space than the Corona and became the best-selling passenger car in North America. The first of the company’s popular SUVs, the 4Runner, appeared in 1984 looking and acting much like a pickup truck. It later morphed into more of a passenger vehicle and led the way for the Rav4, Highlander, and Land Cruiser. Toyota also introduced a full-sized pickup truck-today’s Tundra-and several sporty and affordable cars that targeted young adults.
In 1989, it launched Lexus, its luxury division, promising an unparalleled experience starting white-glove treatment at the dealership. Toyota understood, however, that each country defines luxury differently. In the United States, it meant comfort, size, and dependability; in Europe, attention to detail and brand heritage. As a result, the company varied its advertising depending on the country and culture.
In 1997, Toyota launched the Prius, the first mass-produced hybrid car, for $19,995-between the Corolla and the Camry. The company’s keen focus on developing a clean-energy car was brilliantly timed. Before the second-generation Prius hit showrooms in 2002, dealers had already received 10,000 orders. Over the next decade, Ford, Nissan, GM, and Honda followed the Prius with models of their own.
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