A review of
Against All Odds: the Story of the Toyota Motor Corporation and the Family that Created it by Yukiyasu Togo and William Wartman

Insider Togo sympathetically recounts the remarkable history of Toyota's rise from wartime desperation to world domination. This out-of-print volume was published in 1993 and ends with accounts of Toyota's introduction of the Lexus brand and establishment of the NUMMI joint venture with General Motors.

Against All Odds begins with the establishment of Toyoda Automatic Loom Works in the late 19th century and recounts how founder's son Kiichiro Toyoda nearly bankrupt the business in the 1930's in trying to start vehicle manufacture. In 1934 the loom company finished a truck prototype and in 1936 first publicly displayed passenger cars. Toyota Motor Corporation was established in Nagoya in 1937 with a new name that was considered luckier than the family surname.

The first Toyota models were doomed by the poor quality of metal used in their manufacture. From the very beginning of its history, Toyota was compelled to nurture its entire supply chain in order to be able to source locally manufactured parts of acceptable quality. The company participated in war materiel production, and then narrowly survived the post-war economic depression and labor unrest. The famous just-in-time production system and continuous-improvement methodology were born of simple necessity driven by the difficult conditions Toyota faced at mid-century. Family successors Eiichi and Shoichiro Toyoda adopted the quality control system of Edwards Deming and pioneered production methods that allowed the Toyota Motor Company to progress from the laughable Toyopet in 1947 to the more credible Crown in 1956. By 1960 the Corona was ready to compete in world markets and Toyota began its ultimately successful push into the United States.

The final chapters of the book are rather self-serving descriptions of struggles with U.S. regulators, politicians and labor groups. Perhaps the more recent history of Toyota is less gripping than its post-war struggle for survival, or perhaps author Togo is unable to objectively describe events in which he played a personal role. Nonetheless, Against All Odds is an informative and readable history of the company that Toyota fans and students of automotive industry history will enjoy.

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alison@she-devel.com (Alison Chaiken)