While Nissan and Honda established American factories, Mr. Toyoda led the company into a deal with General Motors, intended to help the company increase its American sales. In an interview with The New York Times, one company executive said the move was like offering “salt to our enemy,” a reference to Japan’s feudal period, when warlords would sometimes feed people in enemy territory. Car and Driver magazine ran the headline “Hell Freezes Over.” The partnership ended soon after General Motors declared bankruptcy in 2009.
Even as he competed with American companies, Mr. Toyoda pushed for Japanese companies to play a bigger role in the communities where they built their factories. In a 1990 speech, he encouraged Japanese industrialists to “contribute on the same level as Americans” by becoming active in local charitable organizations in the United States. (The Japanese government gave tax breaks to those that did.) As Americans became enamored of Toyota’s ultraefficient production practices, he started a management training center to help U.S. businesses. And he helped to keep trade tensions down through concessions to Washington.
By 1992, when Mr. Toyoda stepped down from his role as president to become the company’s chairman, Toyota had plants in 22 countries and was competing with its former partner, General Motors, for the title of the world’s largest automaker, which it won in 2008.
In 1994, as Japan’s meteoric economic rise suddenly turned into a period of stagnation, Mr. Toyoda was appointed head of the business lobbying group Keidanren, where he spent four years pushing the country to reduce the many regulations that he believed hindered its growth.
Mr. Toyoda stepped down from his position as Toyota’s chairman in 1999 and became honorary chairman for life, a position where he continued to influence the company’s course. In 2007, he was inducted into the U.S. Automotive Hall of Fame.
Reflecting on his career in the 2014 article, he wrote “I have worked single-mindedly to add at least a few new lines to the auto industry history books.”
Mr. Toyoda is survived by his wife, Hiroko, whom he married in 1952, and his son Akio and daughter Atsuko.
Hisako Ueno contributed reporting.