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Our European Story

Learn more about Toyota’s history in Europe.

Travel through five decades of operations in Europe

Our European story continues to develop and become more exciting. Here you can find out about some of the most important milestones of our journey.

We’ve been busy throughout the decades. Explore below and learn about our many European milestones and achievements over the decades. 

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.

The 1970s spanned the musical spectrum from Abba and the Osmonds to punk rock, and disco. The technology was finding its way into home entertainment, with the first video recorders and electronic games – rudimentary by today's standards, but exciting innovations at the time.

MOTORSPORTS AND THE BIRTH OF EUROPEAN MANUFACTURING

Although we were just a few years into our European expansion, the momentum was building. More and more people were aware of the Toyota name and responding to the alternative we offered to products and brands they had been familiar with for generations.

Our visibility and appeal were soon given an exciting new dimension with our entry into international rallying with a Europe-based team. Swedish driver Ove Andersson set the plan in motion, convincing a team of our executives at a meeting in London to let him compete in a Toyota Celica in the 1972 RAC Rally in Great Britain. His success with a top-10 finish ahead of some notable rivals ensured the programme would continue. Andersson Motorsport was duly established in Sweden in 1973.

The direct predecessor of today’s Toyota Motorsport GmbH (TMG), the team prepared Corolla and Celica models for competition, with extra support from Japan for major events. Soon after it began work, operations were moved to Brussels in Belgium, in the heart of Europe.

The oil crisis of 1974 threatened to bring the motorsport programme to an early halt, but our sales operations worked with their partners across Europe to keep the team supplied with the parts and equipment it needed. Their faith in the project soon brought rewards, with Finnish driver Hannu Mikkola driving a Corolla 1600 to the team’s first win on the 1,000 Lakes Rally in Finland in 1975. The same year the Toyota Team Europe name was adopted, making clear our commitment to the sport.

This was the start of two decades of success at the pinnacle of world rallying, including multiple driver and manufacturer championship titles, achieved with legendary cars like the Celica TA63 Twincam Turbo, nicknamed the “King of Africa” for its complete dominance of the Safari and Ivory Coast rallies in the mid-1980s.

In 1979 the team moved to Cologne where it created its own street, the aptly named Toyota Alée, which remains the home of TMG and the base for our successful World Endurance Championship team.

The 1970s also marked the start of our production history in Europe, with the agreement signed with Salvador Caetano in 1968 leading to the first European-built Toyotas coming off the line in 1971. By building vehicles locally, we could improve our service to customers, reducing delivery times, keeping costs down and better responding to the tastes and preferences of European customers.

The Toyota Caetano Portugal (TCAP) factory in Ovar started by building Corollas, supplied from Japan in kit form. Since those early days it has gone on to build a wide variety of cars, SUVs, vans and light trucks – Corona, Starlet, Land Cruiser and Hilux models and Optima and Coaster buses have all been manufactured by TCAP.

In the years since TCAP was founded, we have made significant investments in manufacturing facilities across Europe. Today we make nine different car models, plus engines and transmissions at nine locations in seven different countries. The fact that two out of every three vehicles we sell in Europe are built here means we are reducing our environmental impact, with fewer long-distance shipments, and that we are successfully designing the right kind of vehicles to suit local tastes.

This was the decade when Europe drew even closer together, punctuated by the fall of the Berlin Wall, and when environmental issues became a subject of major international debate. The first mobile phones – big and heavy – were being used and the first email was transmitted, both early signs of the communications revolution that lay ahead.

EUROPEAN DESIGN FOR THE WORLD

The 1980s brought further consolidation of our European activities and the development of exciting new ventures that helped us to establish a stronger presence in the region. In 1987 we opened the Toyota Technical Centre of Europe in Belgium, which went on to become the Toyota Motor Europe Technical Centre we operate today. Two years later we set up our first marketing services office, providing valuable support to our product planning and sales operations.


These were important "first steps" towards the foundations of the extensive manufacturing, research and design facilities we have in the region today. Our European operations enjoy an increasingly high level of autonomy to produce new vehicles that not only cater for European tastes but also serve as a benchmark for many of the small and compact models we make worldwide.

Recognising the importance of Europe, we opened our first design centre here in 1989. Called the Toyota Europe Office of Creation (Toyota EPOC), this was to become the creative cradle for new models that would take us right to the heart of the European market. 

Originally established near Brussels, the centre evolved into the Toyota Europe Design and Development studio, known as ED2, located since 2000 near Nice in the South of France.

The foundations we laid in the 1980s provided the platform for introducing Yaris, a car which transformed the concept of the super- mini and which today, three generations later, remains our best-selling European model. It’s now also built here, at our factory in Valenciennes, France.

ED2 played a key role in helping us realise our ambition to build a new car to replace the ageing Starlet, one which would reflect customers' growing environmental awareness by offering much improved fuel consumption and lower CO2 emissions. This demand was clear both in Japan and in Europe, where superminis were accounting for around a third of all new car sales.

We had wanted to create a vehicle with a truly original design for the European market for some time and ED2 made the breakthrough with Yaris, producing a car that was compact in size, yet had a spacious and comfortable interior, designed to appeal to European tastes. And if you wondered where the name came from, it was inspired by Charis, the Greek god of beauty and elegance.

Both ED2 and its creative colleagues in Japan produced prototype models that were tested out in design clinics in Germany, Italy and the UK to gauge the reactions of potential customers. A friendly rivalry developed between the two teams, but ultimately they shared their knowledge and resources to produce the finished model that would go on to make its world debut at the Paris motor show in 1998. It was a historic moment for ED2, as this was its first model to be selected for mass production. The hard work invested in creating the car was rewarded with both European and Japanese “car of the year” titles.

Since then, our European design studio has enjoyed many more successful projects, not least collaborating on the development of the cutting-edge styling of the Toyota C-HR crossover concept, which we unveiled in in 2014 and which was the forerunner of the production model now being built in Europe, at our factory in Turkey.

This was the start of the information age, with the launch of the worldwide web and the arrival of the first in-car GPS satellite navigation systems for public use. The UK became physically attached to the European continent with the opening of the Channel Tunnel and the Simpson family made their debut on our TV screens.

ACCELERATING INVESTMENT IN MANUFACTURING

As we passed the milestone of 30 years in Europe, we committed major investment to establish our own manufacturing facilities here, true to our business principles of building vehicles local to the markets where they will be sold.

Speaking in London in 1989, then Toyota President Shoichiro Toyoda said: "Toyota will make the best possible effort to be accepted as a truly British company and a European company at the earliest possible date." A few weeks later, we confirmed our plans to build our first wholly owned and operated European production centre in Great Britain – Toyota Motor Manufacturing UK (TMUK) was born.

Around €3 billion was invested at the time to create both a car plant in England and an engine facility in north Wales, both of which came on stream in 1992. The first model to be built at the Burnaston factory was the Carina E (the E standing for Europe). Within six years TMUK was also producing Corolla hatchbacks and became the home of our new flagship model for Europe, the Avensis. It also achieved its target of procuring 80 per cent of its parts and services from European suppliers.

Europe was changing too, with the launch of the European Union in 1993 and further moves towards establishing a single market. To adapt to the changing business environment, we reorganised our sales and marketing companies and our European offices under the umbrella of a new business, Toyota Motor Europe Manufacturing and Engineering, headquartered in Brussels.

We also worked to strengthen the links between Toyota Motor Corporation and the businesses manufacturing and marketing our cars in Europe. Strategic investment throughout the 1990s led to TMC having fully or partially-owned subsidiaries in all the major markets in the region while setting up new distributors in important emerging markets in central and eastern Europe.

TMUK was at the start of a new period of expansion, with further manufacturing capacity added in 1994 with the founding of TOYOTASA (today known as Toyota Motor Manufacturing Turkey), a joint venture for local production of the Corolla.

Our developing network of operations required additional support facilities, including an expanded parts hub and an accessory and service centre, both located in Belgium. In Paris, meanwhile, we opened a new showcase for our innovation and technology in 1998, Le Rendez-Vous Toyota on the famous Champs-Elysées (closed in Oct. 2017).

As our European sales passed the half million mark that year, we further increased our manufacturing capacity with the launch of production centres in Poland, for transmissions, and in Valenciennes, France, for production of the hugely successful Yaris.

The foundation stone of Toyota Motor Manufacturing France’s plant was laid in the 90s, and since its opening at the start of 2001 TMMF has continually improved its environmental performance to become our most sustainable factory in Europe and one of our global eco plants-factories that pioneer new and better environmental programmes.

Launched as a "lean, clean industrial site for the 21st century that respects the environment," it has introduced measures to progressively cut waste, reduce energy and water usage and capture renewable energy, for example with the installation of a vast solar wall on the side of one of its buildings. The factory's surroundings are also nurtured, promoting plant and wildlife to achieve the kind of natural diversity found in France's national parks.

The 1990s were the decade when we invested in manufacturing in Europe, opening our first production plants in the region in the UK, followed by factories in France, Turkey, Poland, the Czech Republic and Russia. The cars we build in Europe now makeup almost three in every four we sell here – a sign, too, that we are designing the kind of cars that meet the demands and tastes of European customers. This focus on "local" production also means we can reduce our environmental impact, as we have to make fewer long-distance shipments.

By the turn of the century, we had achieved a complete transformation, from being a niche, Far Eastern business exporting small numbers of vehicles to having a significant local presence as a business building cars, investing in jobs, training and facilities across the region. We were putting into practise our philosophy of local production and realising the benefits it can bring in terms of quality, customer service, efficiency and reduced impact on the environment.

The new millennium brought technology to keep everyone connected, at all times. Text messages, blogs, Facebook and Twitter let us share conversations, images and experiences at the touch of a few keys. And if you preferred to listen rather than talk, you could now fit a library of thousands of music tracks into the pocket of your jeans on a single digital device.

THE HYBRID REVOLUTION

This was the start of a technical revolution in the automotive world as we brought our first hybrid production model to the European market.
In 2000, three years on from its debut in Japan, the original Prius arrived in Europe as a modest-looking sedan powered by a new powertrain that comprised both a conventional petrol engine and an electric motor. Unlike any other car on the market, Prius automatically switched between its different power sources or used them in combination, to achieve the most efficient performance.

And as a “full” hybrid, it could use its electric motor alone, with zero fuel consumption and no tailpipe emissions.

In this way, Prius was true to the Latin roots of its name, being a car ahead of its time. We had been developing our hybrid technology since the 1960s, long before green issues became such a major cause of global concern and before the introduction of legislation to reduce greenhouse gases.

Our environmental vision and our early investment in research and development meant that by the time the Prius was ready to be marketed to our customers, we were completely confident in its quality and ability to deliver the performance we promised. The faith we had in Prius was reflected in the fact it was the first car in Europe to be sold with a five- year/100,000km warranty.

Of course, this was just the start: the first-generation Prius had to introduce people to a new concept in motoring, which means that its initial appeal was as a niche alternative to the conventional petrol and diesel models European customers knew and trusted.

Around 4,000 were sold before Prius was transformed in 2003 with the introduction of a second-generation version that combined more contemporary hatchback styling with significant gains in performance and efficiency. Fuel economy was better by 15 per cent at 4.3l/100km while CO2 emissions dropped to 104g/km. At the same time, motorists were becoming more keenly aware of the need to reduce their carbon footprint and conserve energy, and legislators across the continent began considering tax systems that favoured cleaner vehicles.

Where the original Prius created the hybrid vehicle market, its successor raised the profile of the technology and the model’s popularity. The role of the third generation Prius, launched in 2009, was to take hybrid into the mainstream. Power was one-third greater than in 2000, fuel consumption marked a 23 per cent improvement and CO2 levels fell below the 100g/km benchmark for the first time. These figures reflect how our commitment to continuously improving Prius’s environmental performance could deliver real benefits to society: a car that is easy to drive, practical to use, yet leading the way in the drive to reduce fuel consumption and cut carbon emissions.

Within the decade, Prius helped us change the motoring landscape and paved the way for the roll-out of hybrid technology to other model ranges – Yaris and Auris – that are built in Europe and positioned at the heart of our business. Prius also became a family of models in its own right, with the introduction in 2012 of the Prius+, the world’s first seven-seat full hybrid vehicle, and the Prius Plug-in Hybrid.

The Prius Plug-in Hybrid was also a world-first model, a car with a powerful lithium-ion battery that can be recharged using a simple plug-in connection to a power supply in the home, the workplace or public parking place. This allows for greater distances to be covered and higher speeds to be reached when driving on zero-emissions electric power, compared to the conventional Prius.

Europe was a key testing ground for the technology, with a public leasing programme launched in France in partnership with power generating firm EDF in 2007 – coincidentally the year we reached one million worldwide hybrid vehicle sales. The knowledge we gained during this and other trials worldwide played a vital role in ensuring the car we brought to market achieved the best possible performance. We were able to ensure the Prius Plug-in could cover the great majority of typical European urban commuting journeys on electric power alone, with no harmful tailpipe emissions and zero fuel consumption.

Prius has succeeded in transforming people’s understanding and acceptance of hybrid technology. Today it has become a familiar and popular choice for more and more people who appreciate not only its cleaner and more efficient performance, but also its smooth and sophisticated drive quality and its lasting reliability.

Our understanding of the world and its place in the universe has never been greater. The pioneering work at Europe‘s nuclear research centre has revealed secrets about the essential nature of matter, while space missions to Mars have found evidence of water on our nearest planetary neighbour. Advanced technologies have steadily moved out of the research laboratory and into our homes and workplaces, to make our lives safer, easier and more rewarding.

 

MIRAI AND THE DAWN OF THE HYDROGEN ERA

The automotive world is one area where scientific advances are most plain to see, in the development of vehicles that are kinder to the world around us. Sustainability and environmental concerns are at the heart of everything we do, so it is probably no surprise that we have continued to improve and adapt our hybrid technology to move closer to our goal of creating the ultimate eco-car.

The launch of the Mirai, Toyota’s first mass-produced fuel cell vehicle, in 2015 marked another significant step in this journey. Driven by our commitment to the environment, we were researching how we could develop a zero emissions car as early as the 1990s. With the benefit of our success with hybrids, were able to use the principles of this technology to open up the potential of hydrogen as a clean and sustainable energy source.

The Mirai is powered by electricity generated by an on-board fuel cell stack using hydrogen fuel. In fact, the only by-product from the process is water.

Our intensive development programme has made the technology compact and lightweight so that it can be contained with the dimensions of a conventionally-sized, four-door sedan, complete with a generous trunk. The designed-in practicality includes a driving range of around 500km on a full tank and a refuelling time at the pumps of less than five minutes – just like a petrol or diesel vehicle.

Of course, people who drive Mirai or other fuel cell vehicles need convenient places to fill up. This means a new infrastructure for the distribution and sale of hydrogen fuel has to be set up. For this reason, we have introduced Mirai first in European markets where investment in providing this kind of network is under development – including the UK, Germany, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden. We are also working with our auto industry colleagues, fuel and energy businesses, governments and agencies to co-operate on developing a hydrogen infrastructure that can support increasing numbers of vehicles on the road.

Mirai has commanded a great deal of attention, not least from leading European politicians who believe in its potential to open up a new age of sustainable, zero emissions mobility. In fact, we consider hydrogen to offer even greater opportunities, beyond transport, to provide society with a viable, cleaner and abundant future source of energy.

What can we expect the future to look like?

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