President Toyoda's message to the world: "This is Japan's Crown!"

2022.07.15

Toyota’s new Crown made its world premiere at the Makuhari Messe convention center on July 15.

The Crown underwent a major transformation for its 16th generation, evolving from a sedan into four variations. The Japanese flagship model will be offered in approximately 40 countries and regions.

While more and more of Toyota’s core models are staging their global debuts outside of Japan, the Crown’s world premiere—led directly by President Akio Toyoda—was the first such unveiling in Japan for quite some time.

To give attendees at the unveiling a sense of the Crown’s history, successive generations of the Crown from the first to the 15th generation lined the passageway to the conference hall, accompanied by photographs of each chief engineer and notable comments made by them.

Photographs by Noriaki Mitsuhashi / N-RAK PHOTO AGENCY

Akio kicked off the event by saying: “Even though we are here today to spotlight the launch of a new model, we arranged 15 generations of the Crown for you to see on the way in. Some of you may have wondered why.”

The Crown’s story woven by successive chief engineers

Akio

Photographs by Noriaki Mitsuhashi / N-RAK PHOTO AGENCY

Hello, everyone.

Even though we are here today to spotlight the launch of a new model, we arranged 15 generations of the Crown for you to see on the way in.

Some of you may have wondered why. Let me begin by telling you a Crown’s story woven by successive chief engineers.

The Crown’s origin can be traced back to Toyota’s founding era. 90 years ago, our founder Kiichiro Toyoda decided to take on the challenge of entering the automobile business. Driving the ambitious dream was his philosophy of enriching the lives of the Japanese people by creating a passenger car for the masses.

Production of Toyota’s longed-for domestic passenger car finally began in January 1952, 15 years after the company’s founding. It was Kiichiro himself who named the vehicle “Crown.”

Appointed as the Crown’s chief engineer was Kenya Nakamura.

Driven by a strong sense of mission, Nakamura put all his energy into developing the Crown. He had the conviction to do what he thought was right despite strong opposition and criticism. No latest technology was ignored in its creation, including a double-wishbone suspension for the front wheels.

Reminiscing about the launch, Nakamura said, “It was like all of Japan was in the midst of a festival. When I apologized for something that wasn’t good enough, customers consoled me by saying: ‘It’s just a tiny scratch. No big deal.’ It was like the whole country was giving me a push.”

In 1957, the Crown participated in an Australian rally, making it the first Japanese car to race in an international rally. Soon after, Toyota took another bold step by exporting the vehicle to the United States, marking its first passenger car export.

Then, in 1959, Toyota opened its Motomachi Plant specifically for producing passenger cars. Building a mass-production plant with an annual capacity of 60,000 units was a major decision, given that Japan’s passenger car market was still in its infancy.

For Toyota, all its post-war challenges started with the first-generation Crown. I would say that car symbolized Japan’s recovery and growth momentum.

The third-generation Crown was launched in 1967 when personal vehicle ownership began to take off in Japan. Kameo Uchiyamada took the reins as chief engineer after experiencing the second-generation car’s development under the tutelage of Nakamura. Looking at cars in a parking lot, Uchiyamada noticed that lighter colors seemed to be gaining in popularity.

Anticipating that more people would be using a Crown as their personal vehicle, he decided to make the third generation available in white. Widely known as the White Crown, that model became a driving force in Japan’s motorization.

That was the Crown’s foundational period.

Over the next two decades, the Crown matured into a presence sought out by customers.

Launched in 1971, the fourth generation daringly adopted bold styling for a new image in anticipation of intensified competition from foreign cars.

However, partly due to quality issues, sales ended up being a struggle. The lesson learned from this model and taken to heart to this day was this: The Crown must first and foremost meet customers’ core needs.

From that point on, successive chief engineers pursued Crown development while being careful to balance innovation and customer expectations.

That approach to car-making bore fruit in the seventh and eighth generations, led by chief engineer Kenichi Imaizumi. With its “Someday, a Crown” tagline, the seventh generation became a status symbol in Japan, followed by the eighth generation, which achieved the highest sales volume in Crown history.

I joined Toyota in 1984, and my first workplace was the Motomachi Plant. I was involved in the production preparation for the eighth generation, and I still remember how everyone took pride in their work.

In the 1980s, the Crown had undoubtedly become Japan’s flagship. However, its growth peaked there. It entered hard times from the ninth generation onward.

To start with, the Crown’s positioning within Toyota changed.

In 1989, Toyota introduced the Lexus LS in Japan as the Toyota Celsior. That change was a major turning point in the history of the Crown, which had served as Toyota’s long-standing flagship.

Then, after Japan’s bubble economy burst in 1991, the Japanese economy fell into recession, dragging down with it the demand for luxury vehicles. Moreover, competition from imports intensified.

The ninth and 10th generations of the Crown faced these harsh headwinds. Chief engineer Hiroyuki Watanabe, inheriting the role from Imaizumi of the “Someday, a Crown” days after working under him, came to experience both prosperous and difficult times for the Crown. From his era, the Crown entered a period of transformation.

In the 2000s, Toyota accelerated its advances overseas, pursuing a greater scale in sales and production. This gradually led to prioritizing models and markets that promised larger sales and profits.

With Crown sales in a steady decline, there was growing concern that the model’s end might be near. This sense of crisis drove development of the 12th-generation Crown, launched in 2003.

Mitsuhisa Kato, who headed development, said at the time, “There’s no way I’m going to let the Crown end on my watch.” With such determination, Kato took on the challenge of rebuilding the Crown. He redeveloped the platform and engine from scratch to achieve world-class driving performance.

At that time, I had just started driving training under Hiromu Naruse, my mentor. I still remember experiencing firsthand the driving performance of the Zero Crown.

The Zero Crown indicated a new direction: A Crown with advanced driving performance.

In 2008, the global financial crisis struck, and I was appointed president after the company plunged into the red. Despite the difficulties this posed for our company, we persisted in taking on the challenge of transforming the Crown.

“Let’s make a car that attracts people at first glance! You can change whatever you want to do that.” That’s how I encouraged the development team to redesign the Crown.

We transformed vehicle styling, renewed the vehicle platform, and honed the driving performance at the Nürburgring. That’s how we created the 14th-generation “Reborn Crown” and the 15th-generation “Connected Crown.”

For the past 20 years, we have explored Crown’s evolution while facing the challenge of the changing times.

The Crown’s new era

Akio

And then came the time to develop the 16th generation. To draw a comparison with Japanese history, Japan’s final feudal dynasty happened to end after 15 generations. I was resolved to do whatever it takes to create a new era for the Crown.

So, I asked the development team, “Why don’t we go back to our origins and seriously think about the next Crown?” With that, development of the 16th generation got underway.

Stirred by my words, the Crown team started revisiting the passions of past chief engineers.

Kenya Nakamura is quoted as saying:

“Selling things to people with conviction means creating something that feels good in one’s heart and has within it the true heart of the customer. Only when a customer gets behind the wheel of such a car will they say: ‘This has got my attention. This is what I want to drive.’ The chief engineer’s role is to offer cars like that to the world.”

This is the origin of our chief engineer system, and I believe it is also the origin of our continued efforts in making ever-better cars.

Two years later, the Crown team has manifested a Crown for the coming era. When I first saw this new Crown, I said: “This looks interesting.” And when I got out of the car after driving it, I said: “Now that is a Crown.”

Today, a new Crown is born. To us, it is similar in significance to when Japan welcomed the modern age about 150 years ago.

Everyone, please witness the dawn of a new era!

A new task from the president

Upon Akio saying so and spreading his arms, a screen near the rear of the stage rose to reveal four vehicles of different body types.

Photographs by Noriaki Mitsuhashi / N-RAK PHOTO AGENCY

“Here, we present to you our Crown for the new era!”, declared Akio as he handed the stage over to Hiroki Nakajima, president of Toyota’s in-house Mid-size Vehicle Company, who shared with the audience episodes from the new Crown’s development.

Nakajima

Photographs by Noriaki Mitsuhashi / N-RAK PHOTO AGENCY

I am Hiroki Nakajima, president of Toyota’s in-house Mid-size Vehicle Company overseeing the new Crown’s development.

Let me talk about the new Crown’s development story. First of all, a little more than two years ago, we were working on a partial redesign of the 15 th -generation Crown.

I shared details of the project with President Toyoda, but he did not approve it, saying: “Is this truly going to result in evolution? Why don’t we start thinking more seriously? Maybe we should skip a partial redesign.”

Looking back, I believe those words marked the beginning of the development of the 16th-generation Crown.

We started by revisiting the passions of successive chief engineers to thoroughly reexamine what the Crown was all about.

We realized anew that there were no fixed rules such as those governing the shape of the car or its drive system. The only common thread was the engineers’ spirit of innovation and challenge. This prompted us to understand how we had tied ourselves to our predetermined rules over time.

At the time, I recalled the two messages President Toyoda had been repeating since becoming president. That is, “let’s make ever-better cars,” and “let's aim to be the best in town, not the best in the world.”

I realized that the Crown is a long-time seller because the past chief engineers constantly challenged themselves to create an ever-better Crown with a best-in-town focus in their car-making to make customers happy.

This caused us to drastically change our approach. We freed ourselves from fixed ways of thinking and started exploring a new Crown that would achieve happiness for our customers. That’s how this crossover’s development began.

President Toyoda gave us the green light when we showed him the vehicle’s shape and packaging. Around that time, he also gave us a new task.

He said: “Why don’t we also think about a sedan?”

Frankly, I couldn’t believe what I had just heard. But I thought it was because he saw our changes since deciding to skip a partial redesign. We had a different mindset because we returned to the Crown’s origin, and he wanted us to apply that to making a sedan version.

Then, in return, we proposed four different models, thinking that we also needed a hatchback and a station wagon to meet diverse needs. This is the background story.

Let me once again introduce to you our four versions of the new Crown.

Four variations of the Crown

Nakajima

Let me once again introduce to you our four versions of the new Crown.

First, the Crossover. This Crown is the result of fusing a sedan and an SUV. Its packaging allows for ease of entry and exit, provides a high viewpoint, and makes the vehicle easy to drive. Its driving performance, underpinned by a new hybrid system, marks an evolutionary advance, making it a sedan like no other.

Photographs by Noriaki Mitsuhashi / N-RAK PHOTO AGENCY

Next, the Sport. This Crown is a new form of sporty SUV, a spirited and creative car with easy-to-drive packaging that offers an agile and sporty driving experience.

Photographs by Noriaki Mitsuhashi / N-RAK PHOTO AGENCY

Then, the Sedan. As an orthodox sedan, this Crown was developed in pursuit of quality and comfort, as well as a new formal expression. It is also well-suited as a chauffeured vehicle.

Photographs by Noriaki Mitsuhashi / N-RAK PHOTO AGENCY

Last, the Estate. This Crown, as a highly functional SUV, enables users to enjoy driving performance with power to spare and an active lifestyle in a mature atmosphere. The rear seats fold to form a completely flat cargo area, making this model a cross between a station wagon and an SUV.

Photographs by Noriaki Mitsuhashi / N-RAK PHOTO AGENCY

These four models are united under the Crown name. Starting with this now-launching Crown Crossover, we will roll them out in succession over the next year and a half.

Two initiatives that made the new Crown possible

Nakajima

It was no easy task to develop these four models at the same time. What made it possible were Toyota’s in-house company system and the Toyota New Global Architecture, or TNGA. We couldn’t present the new Crown today without them.

First, I’ll explain a bit about our in-house company system we started in 2016.

Each in-house company’s members feel strongly attached to and place the highest priority on the cars they are in charge of. Our mission is to make decisions and act on our own initiative.

For the Mid-size Vehicle Company, we were able to position the Crown first and foremost. And as president, I was able to execute the project based on my responsibility and judgment. That’s what really mattered.

We had to review our previous development process, thoroughly eliminate waste, and secure resources. We placed the product planning and development processes under the responsibility of a single team, promoting everyone’s professionalism and communicating more closely than ever before to accomplish our mission.

Next, let me now talk about the second element, TNGA.

In 2012, in pursuit of making ever-better cars, we started the TNGA initiative to drastically improve basic vehicle performance through the integrated development of innovative vehicle platforms and powertrains.

Over the past ten years, TNGA has matured and evolved, enabling us to turn the Crown into a series.

TNGA-based platforms have enhanced basic vehicle performance, styling that entices people at first glance, and drive and ride quality that makes people want to keep on enjoying it.

The new Crown is even more developed. The Crown Sports, for example, offers both a stylish appearance and interior comfort and usability thanks to a new dedicated platform and larger-diameter tires.

TNGA powertrains, with an emphasis on direct and smooth performance, have achieved both excellent driving performance and fuel efficiency while contributing to a lower center of gravity for vehicles.

That evolution has continued. For example, in this crossover, the engine and front electric motor are directly connected, and the rear wheels have a dedicated large electric motor, achieving powerful driving with a total output of 350 horsepower and a robust 550 newton-meters of torque. This model also employs a new hybrid system that uses precise four-wheel-drive control of vehicle posture.

The Crown has long served as the flagship of the Toyota brand.

We will put all of our energy into developing these Crown models by applying to the fullest our in-house company system and TNGA, and we will build flagship-quality vehicles for our customers. Please look forward to them. Thank you very much.

Japan’s underlying strengths for the world to experience

Akio

I believe that the philosophy of producing happiness for all has always been at the core of the Crown.

This flagship has represented Japanese success and pride, bringing together Japan’s world-class technology and skilled workforce.

The new Crown is full of these underlying strengths.

That is why, with this series, we will once again take on the world.

The new Crown will be available in approximately 40 countries and regions, with an expected annual sales volume of some 200,000 units.

I would be more than happy if we could help restore vitality to Japan by making the Crown a Japanese car loved round the world.

I sincerely want the world to know what Japan’s Crown is all about.

In closing, let me say a few words to customers around the world.

I’m so excited to announce today… that this new Crown family of vehicles will be offered…not just in Japan… but globally…. for the very first time.

Customers from around the world will now get a chance to drive this historic Japanese nameplate… born out of passion, pride, and progress.

A car that could very well be… our crowning achievement!

We hope to create a new story for Japan’s Crown with all of you. Thank you very much for your kind attention.

Photographs by Noriaki Mitsuhashi / N-RAK PHOTO AGENCY

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