Eiji Toyoda was instrumental in developing Toyota's vaunted production system

Pioneer of the 'Toyota Way' dies aged 100

Eiji Toyoda, a member of Toyota's founding family who helped create the super-efficient "Toyota Way" production method, has died.

Toyoda, a cousin of the Japanese carmaker's founder Kiichiro Toyoda, died today of heart failure at Toyota Memorial Hospital in Toyota city, central Japan, Toyota said in a statement.

Eiji Toyoda served as president from 1967 to 1982, engineering Toyota's growth into a global carmaker. He became chairman in 1982, and continued in advisory positions up to his death.

He spent his early years on the shop floor, and was also instrumental in developing what became the automaker's much-imitated just-in-time production method to cut waste and empower workers for continuous improvement or "kaizen", a system that became known as the "Toyota Way".

A graduate of the prestigious University of Tokyo with a degree in mechanical engineering, he joined the original family firm, Toyoda Automatic Loom Works, in 1936. In 1950, company founder Kiichiro Toyoda sent Eiji, a graduate of the University of Tokyo, to Ford Motor's massive Rouge Plant to learn about car making from the company that had pioneered mass production.

In a story that is still shared at Toyota training sessions, Toyoda returned to Japan impressed with US materials and machinery but convinced that he could make improvements to Ford's world-famous production system.

"Japan's automobile industry facilities and engineers are good but our machine tools are inferior. If we can solve this problem, we can manufacture good and economic vehicles that are equal to America's," Toyoda wrote after his month and a half of training at Ford's major factories.

During his years at the helm of what is now the world's biggest carmaker, Eiji Toyoda led the development of the Toyota Corolla, which has become one of the best-selling cars of all time. He also pushed Toyota to develop luxury vehicles, which later became the Lexus brand.

One of Japan's most respected businessmen, Toyoda was also one of the main figures to forge Toyota's partnership with General Motors, to set up a joint plant in Fremont, California, called NUMMI, New United Motor Manufacturing, in 1984. NUMMI closed in 2010.

Toyoda is survived by his three sons, Kanshiro, Tetsuro and Shuhei, all executives at Toyota affiliates. A private family funeral is planned.

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