By Jan. R. Wagner
Toyota has a long and rich history in the United States. It began in 1957 with the establishment of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A.. Calty Design Research was established in 1973, followed in 1977 by the Toyota Technical Center. That laid the groundwork for manufacturing to begin here in 1986. By 1997, five million vehicles had been produced in North America, which led to ten million by 2002 and fifteen million by 2006. You know how you seem to see the Prius everywhere? It’s no wonder. There were one million of those sold globally by 2008.
Recently I was given a guided tour of Toyota’s US corporate headquarters in Torrance. It was just after Toyota’s first NASCAR Sprint Cup win in the exciting Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, courtesy of Kyle Busch and Joe Gibbs Racing, and just before the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. A selection of the Grand Prix’s Pro/Celebrity racecars were on display in the atrium of the main building’s lobby.
If you didn’t know better, you might think that this was a beautiful college campus. Several thousand people work in a multitude of buildings, which are located in a sprawling, park-like setting. A physical separation is maintained between Scion, Lexus and Toyota, which is reflected in the distinct and individualized character and marketing of their respective vehicles.
There was a lot to take in but I can tell you that a wide range of functions are located here including: Toyota sales and marketing for much of the continental United States; Toyota Financial Services; a nearby and wonderful museum (more on that later); a sprawling parts distribution warehouse (one of several nationally and by far the largest building here, where a long row of trucks are lined up to take parts all across the country); a large service garage to prep and maintain their fleet vehicles (including Press cars, like the Scion FR-S that I reviewed in AutoMatters #271) that includes a gas station and a car wash; a natural gas station; a hydrogen station with a fleet of hydrogen vehicles; electric vehicle chargers and EVs; a Customer Service call center; data services; accounting; quality control and more. Amenities include a tennis court, gym, cafeterias, loads of parking and even a helipad, set in the middle of a large, grassy area.
Engineering and design are done elsewhere. Established in 1977, the Toyota Technical Center, a division of Toyota Motor Engineering and Manufacturing, is headquartered in Michigan. Toyota’s Calty Design Research Facilities, which do design and development work for Toyota, Lexus and Scion automobiles, are located in Newport Beach, California and Ann Arbor, Michigan.
As fascinating and impressive as all that is, where I spent most of my visit was at the nearby Toyota USA Automobile Museum. Opened in 2000, it houses over 100 milestone vehicles dating from 1957 and explains their place in Toyota’s history via descriptive signage. Special exhibits include racecars and trucks, movie cars and design concepts. They’re there for visitors to see and enjoy, free of charge.
The first Toyota model sold in the United States was the 1958 Toyopet Crown but the 1965 Corona was Toyota’s first high-volume success story. That also marked the beginning of Toyota’s impressive reputation for quality automobiles. The Corolla, which appeared shortly thereafter, went on to consistently be one of the world’s best-selling cars.
Lexus Division was launched in North America in 1989, followed by Scion in 2003.
One of my favorite Toyotas of all time has to be the 2000GT sportscar, a special convertible version of which was featured in the 1967 James Bond movie entitled “You Only Live Twice.” It still looks beautiful today.
I especially enjoyed the museum’s collection of historic race vehicles, from off-road trucks to GTP and IndyCars.
There are also Land Cruisers, trucks and even minivans on display.
The Toyota USA Automobile Museum is located at 19600 Van Ness Avenue in Torrance, CA 90501. It is open by appointment-only to individuals and groups, including car clubs. It is a great venue for meetings and special events, and they offer guided tours. To make an appointment, send an email to the curator, Susan Sanborn, at
or phone her at (310) 468-4728. The museum is also on the web at
Until next time, please write to me with your comments and suggestions at
Copyright © 2013 by Jan Wagner – #282