Toyota is one of the most popular car brands in the world, and it’s the top seller of Japanese cars in the U.S. Toyota is the only foreign automaker whose car sales compare favorably with those of Ford and Chevy. The well-known Toyota symbol is synonymous with high quality, dependability and gas mileage.
Building on Success
In 1918, Sakichi Toyoda invented the world’s first automatic loom and established the Toyoda Spinning and Weaving Company in Nagoya, Japan. The company did well, but his son Kiichiro Toyoda saw the possibility of even greater success.
He convinced his father to go into the automobile business. The company began designing and building cars in the 1930s. In 1935, Toyoda produced its first mass production vehicle, the Model AA passenger car.
When Kiichiro branched out into a separate business, he gave it the slightly modified name of Toyota. Why did he change the name? In Japanese writing, the new name needed eight brush strokes, and eight is a lucky number in Japanese culture. Toyota became hugely successful in Japan, where it also produced vehicles for the Japanese military.
The Toyoda company’s original logo in English was a shield-shaped emblem with the name Toyoda on it. The shield was blue, and the lettering was in white on a red background.
When the family changed the name to Toyota, they changed the logo, too. After holding a public competition to design the new logo, they chose a winner. This new logo was a simple red circle with the name Toyota in white Japanese lettering.
Related: Our guide on trademarking your logo.
Selling in America
In 1957, Toyota founded Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., in Hollywood, California. The first cars it sold in the US were the Land Cruiser, a rugged all-terrain vehicle, and a sedan called the Toyopet Crown. The Land Cruiser was a hit, and is still in production today. It is the only Toyota vehicle still being sold 64 years later.
Sales of the Toyopet were slow, and Toyota stopped selling it in 1961. Its next entry was the Toyota Corona, which launched in 1965.
Designed specifically for American drivers, the Corona was the first widely popular Toyota. It has a powerful engine, air conditioning and automatic transmission. By 1967, Toyota was the number three imported brand in the country.
Introducing the Corolla
In 1968, Toyota introduced the Corolla. This compact car was hugely successful. Today, it is the world’s most popular sedan with more than 30 million units sold in more than 100 countries.
Sales of Toyota cars remained strong in the 1970s. In 1975, the Japanese company beat Volkswagen as the top-selling import car in the country. In 1978, Toyota led all foreign competitors in sales of cars, trucks and total vehicles.
In 1982, Toyota celebrated its 25th anniversary in the U.S. by opening new headquarters in Torrance, California. This complex is still in operation.
In 1986, Toyota became the first import car manufacturer to sell more than one million cars in he US in a single year. That same year, Toyota opened its first American factory.
Toyota used the red 1978 logo until 1989. In that year, Toyota unveiled a new logo to commemorate the company’s 50th anniversary. The new logo used two stylized lines to form a T inside an oval shape.
On the surface, it seems like a very simple design. Toyota’s designers, however, had spent years perfecting it. They wanted a logo that was instantly recognizable. They also wanted to be sure it would look the same even when viewed in a rear-view mirror. This logo does all that. It is the logo that’s still in use today.
According to the blog LogoMyWay, “The two perpendicular ovals inside the larger oval represent the heart of the customer and the heart of the company. The overlapping of the two perpendicular ovals inside the outer oval symbolizes ‘T’ for Toyota and a steering wheel, which represents the vehicle itself. The outer oval symbolizes the world embracing Toyota. Each oval is contoured with different stroke thicknesses, similar to the brush art known in Japanese culture.”
The new logo coincided with Toyota’s launch of a new slogan. “Let’s Go Places” has become an official tagline since then.
The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection
Toyota introduced the Lexus line of luxury vehicles in 1989 with the slogan, “The relentless pursuit of perfection.“ The first models were the LS 400 and the ES 250. In 1991, Lexus beat Mercedes Benz and BMW as the top sellers in the luxury market. Lexus is still the top-selling luxury vehicle in the country.
In 2000, Toyota introduced the Prius, the first mass-produced hybrid electric vehicle. With a fuel economy of 51 mph highway and an affordable price, it launched massive interest in EVs.
Toyota continued to innovate every few years. In 2002, the company launched two zero-emission hydrogen fuel cell vehicles to customers in California for real-world testing.
In 2003, Toyota launched a third line of cars. The Scion cars were marketed at young buyers. They were affordably priced cars with updated technology and other features. The Scion line has been a huge commercial success.
Advances in Electric Vehicles
Toyota is best-known for its innovations in electric and hybrid vehicles. In 2005, it introduced the first luxury EV in the Lexus RX 400h. In 2006, the company added hybrid options to the Camry and the Highlander.
In the decades since its founding, Toyota has continued to open factories in the U.S. and develop innovations in car design.
Keeping It Simple
Despite these innovations, Toyota has kept things simple with its logo and branding. The company officially recognizes only four types of logos: “the Toyota brand logos, the Let’s Go Places logos, and our various vehicle and sub-brand logos. Each contains three elements: typography, the Toyota emblem and the staging platform. These elements…simplify and unify our brand.”
That simplicity has served Toyota well for many years. The company’s future is as bright as its official red color.