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Originally published September 17, 2013 at 4:56 PM | Page modified September 18, 2013 at 8:51 AM

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Eiji Toyoda, key figure in Toyota’s rise, dies

Eiji Toyoda, who helped create the “Toyota Way,” was also one of the main figures to forge Toyota’s partnership with General Motors to set up a joint plant in Fremont, Calif., called NUMMI. He was 100.

The Associated Press

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TOKYO — Eiji Toyoda, a member of Toyota’s founding family who helped create the super-efficient “Toyota Way” production method, has died. He was 100.

Mr. Toyoda, a cousin of the automaker’s founder Kiichiro Toyoda, died Tuesday of heart failure at a hospital in Toyota city, Japan.

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

Mr. Toyoda spent his early years on the shop floor and helped pioneer Toyota’s reputed just-in-time production to cut waste and empower workers for continuous improvement or “kaizen.”

“He played an important role in leading Toyota’s expansion into North America, and in developing the carmaker into a global company,” Yoshihide Suga, Japan’s chief Cabinet secretary, said at a news conference in Tokyo. “He was someone who was indispensable to the nation’s entire industry.”

A graduate of the prestigious University of Tokyo with a degree in mechanical engineering, Mr. Toyoda joined Toyoda Automatic Loom Works in 1936.

Toyota started out as a loom maker, founded by Kiichiro Toyoda’s father, Sakichi. Eiji Toyoda’s father was Sakichi’s brother.

During his years at the helm of what is now the world’s biggest automaker, 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, Mr. Toyoda was also one of the main figures to forge Toyota’s partnership with General Motors to set up a joint plant in Fremont, Calif., called NUMMI, New United Motor Manufacturing, in 1984. NUMMI closed in 2010.

The U.S. Automotive Hall of Fame inducted Mr. Toyoda in 1994, making him the second honoree from Japan, after Soichiro Honda.

“As a member of the automobile industry, this is indeed a great moment for me,” he said in a statement upon his induction. “Ever since Toyota’s establishment in 1937, I have been involved in this wonderful business, and as long as my engine keeps running, I intend to give back as much as I can for the industry’s further development.”

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

Material from Bloomberg News is included in this report.

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