Launched in October 20, 1966, Toyota Motor’s Corolla has been an integral part of Japan’s automotive landscape over the past 50 years.
The Corolla contributed to the spread of passenger vehicles in Japan and became hugely popular around the world. Cumulative sales of this recurring top global seller reached 44 million vehicles as of August 31, 2016. Corolla’s history spanning a half century parallels the growth of Japan’s auto industry as it overcame difficult challenges and made dramatic advances.
The first-generation Corolla released in October 1966 was a two-door sedan with a 1,100 cc engine priced at ¥432,000 (standard model in the Tokyo area). This year heralded the era of privately owned automobiles in Japan. Just a few months earlier in April, Nissan launched the Sunny, a two-door sedan with a 1,000 cc engine. Toyota’s entry into the family car segment spurred a fierce rivalry between the two leading automakers, centered on the Corolla and the Sunny. New car sales in Japan in 1966 was 2 million, but it quickly doubled to 4 million in 1970, highlighting how the Corolla and Sunny drove market growth.
For Toyota, the Corolla was an epoch-making model that contributed significantly to the future expansion of its business through the creation of new technologies and development approaches. Hasegawa Tatsuo (1916–2008), who later became the company’s senior managing director, was the chief engineer leading its development. Two decades ago I had an opportunity to interview Hasegawa, who had already retired, and hear firsthand accounts of Corolla’s development.
The Corolla appeared with an uncommon engine displacement of 1,100 cc. This engine size was selected after it became known that Nissan’s new model-to be called Sunny on the basis of a public contest in 1965-would have a 1,000 cc engine. Although a 1,000 cc engine was initially planned for the Corolla as well, since Sunny was to be launched first, a decision was quickly made to increase the engine size by 100 cc. Over the course of several months before market launch, the development team succeeded in changing the engine design and in preparing for production. Once the Corolla was released, ads touted the “extra 100 cc” of power-a direct jab at the Sunny. This proved to be a successful advertising ploy, and many more consumers opted for the Corolla. (NEWSONJAPAN)