Eiji Toyoda, was a member of Toyota Motor’s founding family and an architect of its “lean manufacturing” method. He helped to turn the automaker into a global powerhouse and changed the face of modern manufacturing.
Mr. Toyoda was born on Sept. 12, 1913, near Nagoya in central Japan, the second son of Heikichi and Nao Toyoda. He spent much of his youth at his family’s textile mill. He graduated from the University of Tokyo in 1936 with a mechanical engineering degree and joined his family’s loom business.
The next year, Kiichiro Toyoda, son of the founder, created Toyota Motor, taking the young Eiji Toyoda with him.
Assigned to a division devoted to resolving quality problems, Mr. Toyoda is said to have developed an uncanny ability to spot waste and eliminate it. He used to say, “Whether you pick a up a problem and solve it or not is a matter of habit. If you have the habit, then you can do whatever you have a mind to.”
In 1950, he set out on what would turn out to be a pivotal three-month tour to survey Ford’s Rouge plant in Detroit, then the largest and most efficient factory in the world. By 1950, Toyota had produced just 2,685 automobiles, compared with the 7,000 vehicles the Rouge plant was rolling out in a single day
Mr. Toyoda wrote back to headquarters that he “thought there were some possibilities to improve the production system.” He brought back a thick booklet that outlined some of Ford’s quality-control methods; the company translated it into Japanese. Mr. Toyoda went on to oversee Toyota’s Motomachi plant, a huge undertaking that gave the automaker the capacity to produce 5,000 passenger vehicles a month at a time when all of Japan produced about 7,000 vehicles a month. The plant, completed in 1959, was soon running at full capacity and gave Toyota a decisive lead over its domestic rival Nissan and the confidence to turn its eyes overseas.
He died on 17 September 2013.