The baby boomer generation became adults and the traditions of the past were shaken off as people sought better and brighter lifestyles. While culture brought us James Bond and the Beatles, science and technology opened up previously unimagined opportunities, culminating in man’s first steps on the moon in 1969.
OUR ARRIVAL IN EUROPE
The 1960s were just as much a decade of transformation for us, with our first entry into the European market paving the way for the major sales and manufacturing businesses we operate across the continent today.
We began to explore the potential of selling our vehicles in markets outside Japan in the 1950s, shipping them in kit form for local manufacturers to assemble in countries around the globe, from Latin America to Australia. Where Europe was concerned, however, it was the vision of Walther Krohn that put the Toyota brand on the map.
Krohn was the president of Erla Auto Import, a Danish car retail business. Visiting the Tokyo motor show in 1962, he was impressed by the Toyota Crown and thought it was the kind of model that would appeal to European motorists. His vision led to Erla Auto becoming our first official European distributor, with exclusive sales rights for Denmark, Sweden and Norway. In 1963 the first 400 Crowns were shipped from Japan.
They were not the first Toyotas on the road here, however. For historical accuracy, two Crown models had reached Malta via the Middle East in 1960 and two Coronas (with the Tiara name-plate) were tested out in Finland in 1962.
Krohn’s instincts proved right and in the next few years, further agreements were reached with commercial partners keen to introduce the Toyota name to the European car-buying public. Louwman and Parqui became the Dutch distributors in 1964 and following year Pride and Clark caused a stir in the UK when it put the Corona on its stand at the London motor show. British sales were launched soon afterwards and one of the first GB-registered cars is still on the road today.
The introduction of the first-generation Toyota Corolla in 1966 added extra appeal to our profile as a new and intriguing player in the market. Our cars had to have big showroom appeal because their pricing reflected the fact every one of them had to be shipped all the way from Japan. The cost was also pushed higher by local customs duties and sales tariffs. But this disadvantage was balanced by the fact the Corona and Corolla offered lots of equipment features and both were very reliable, helping reduce day-to-day running costs.
Vintage press adverts for the Corona made much of the “silent cruising” performance of its 1.5-litre engine and its quality “double-checked a hundred times”. The key equipment features included a reverse light, electric screen washers and cabin carpets, but you had to pay extra for seatbelts.
Our early European expansion focused on markets where there was little or no national motor manufacturing industry, like Greece (from 1965), Switzerland (1966) and Belgium (1966), but towards the end of the decade, we were represented in the home territory of all the major auto manufacturers, including France, Italy and Germany.
As exports to Europe increased rapidly, we realised we needed a base on the continent and in 1970 we opened the first Toyota Motor Sales office in Brussels, the forerunner of today's Toyota Motor Europe. Around the same time, we also signed the first agreement for Toyota vehicles to be assembled here, the start of a partnership with Salvador Caetano in Portugal that continues to this day and which marked the first step towards the major manufacturing presence we went on to establish through the 1990s.