The beginner’s guide to Toyota

By topgear, 10 April 2020

Who’s Toyota, and when did it start making cars?

Toyota is one of the world’s biggest car brands, making a name for itself as a purveyor of the third most reliable thing after death and taxes.

And yes, a great many of these vehicles were about as interesting as an investor prospectus for an envelope factory. However, for an even greater many buyers, a car is a tool, appliance and method of conveyance, and the idea of choosing idiosyncrasy and emotion over practicality and reliability is akin to choosing a toaster with racing stripes even though it’ll burn the bread on one side and leave the other untouched. 

Toyota started as an incorporated business in 1937, but it had already started making cars back in 1936 as a subsidiary of a textile company. As you do. And no, these cars weren’t made from flax or anything like that – in fact, they were eerily similar to the American and European cars of the time. Imitation being the sincerest form of flattery and all that.

Where are Toyotas built, and how many does it build a year?

Even if we leave it at Toyotas, and don’t explore every single pie that Toyota has a finger in (such as Subaru, Suzuki, Isuzu and Mazda) or indeed an entire fist (Hino, Daihatsu and Lexus), nearly 30 countries can lay claim to building one form of Toyota or another.

In terms of cars built per year, Toyota only lists production figures with Lexus included, explaining it away with some guff about ‘we actually own Lexus and build all of its cars, so it should probably count’, or something. In any case, the number you’ve been hanging out for is nine million cars, in a single year. So, enough.

What cars does Toyota build?

Well, that’s a long and ever-changing list, but you’ll definitely know about the big players in Toyota’s line-up, such as the Corolla, Camry, Hilux and Land Cruiser. Yep, the Prius isn’t in that list, with its paltry four or five million sales; this list is reserved for those with at least 10 million sales, and the Land Cruiser is mopping its brow, having just made it into the club in 2019. The Corolla? It passed the 45 million mark years ago, darling. Do try to keep up.

What’s the cheapest car Toyota builds... and what’s the most expensive it builds?

That really depends on your market. If you live in a country that is described in that hand-wringing way as “developing”, then you’ll almost certainly have access to a car that’s had some form of Toyota investment and engineering for a lot cheaper than what we’re about to talk about.

In terms of big-money export Toyotas, you’re generally looking at Lexus. But let’s leave that for another time, because there is a Toyota-badged, if not entirely built, car that’ll claim a sizeable chunk of your bank account without even trying. Yes, friends, it’s the Toyota Supra.

(Click HERE for our First Drive of the Toyota A90 Gazoo Racing Supra)

What’s the fastest car Toyota builds?

Again, that’ll be the Supra, at least in terms of road cars. If you want real, oh-my-word, physics-may-not-be-broken-but-my-head-is speed, just look to any of Toyota’s TS racers.

We remember seeing the TS010 getting a shakedown at Australia’s Eastern Creek racetrack, watching it pile into turn one without braking and expecting the world’s most fireballing accident. Instead, it stuck like some kind of hybrid of velcro and araldite and shot around the corner before we could finish swearing.

Trust us, kids, the people at Toyota know how to make interesting cars. It’s just because you lot need reliable cars that they pull back on the handle for the road-going stuff.

What’s been Toyota’s best moment?

So that’s besides becoming the world’s biggest car manufacturer? Sheesh, remind us not to try to impress you any time soon.

Kiichiro Toyoda was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in America back in 2018… is that enough to impress you?

What’s been Toyota’s worst moment?

That’d likely be when it forked out more than a billion dollars and faced criminal charges on the back of a spate of cases of unintended acceleration in the United States. According to a release by the Department of Justice, Toyota wasn’t quick enough to address one of the causes when it first cropped up, and then hid a second problem that also caused unintended acceleration from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. These decisions, and there’s no nice way to put this, cost lives. And then US$1.2 billion.

What's Toyota’s most surprising moment?

Um, how about that time they decided to build an entire city? Yep, not content with the fact that there was already a Toyota city in Aichi Prefecture, Toyota decided that it should build a 175-acre city in the shadow of Mount Fuji.

We’d love to go when it opens – just let us call up Howard Hughes and ask if we can borrow the Spruce Goose.

What’s the best concept Toyota built?

Toyota has absolutely cranked out concept cars since the 1930s, so it’s actually a pretty tricky job to pick the best one – but the Toyota Alessandro Volta definitely has a strong case.

As you may have guessed by the name, the Alessandro Volta employed battery power. As the reason we have batteries in the first place (and why we refer to electrical potential in volts), ol’ Alex is one of those historically pretty useful people.

So what better way to honour his accomplishments with a 400bhp hybrid sports car, designed by countryman Giorgetto Giugiaro and fashioned from carbon fibre to look not unlike a Zenvo? Or should we say that the Zenvo looks like the Volta, given the Toyota came out in 2004 and the fiery Danish supercar in 2009?

Tell me an interesting fact about Toyota.

Ever wonder why the company is called Toyota, but the family name of its founders is Toyoda? Well, wonder no more – to write Toyoda in Katakana (the Japanese script used for technical terms, companies and loan words from other languages) takes 10 strokes of a pen, whereas writing Toyota takes eight, thanks to not needing the two diacritical marks that distinguish the ‘da’ sound from the root ‘ta’ sound. Thank you, high school Japanese, for that one. And why did the Toyoda family want eight strokes? Eight’s a lucky number in Japan. And simpler in a logo.

Oh, and before they got into the car business, the Toyoda family made automatic looms for the clothing and textiles business. So there’s two at least mildly interesting facts, which, by Top Gear maths, definitely equals one properly interesting one.

STORY Craig Jamieson

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