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Looking back as Toyota Corolla turns 50

Industry news

Tokyo - This past weekend marked the 50th anniversary of the Toyota Corolla, one of the world's best-selling cars.

Since the first-generation Corolla went on sale in Japan on November 5, 1966, over 44 million Corollas have been sold globally. However, South Africa only got its first taste of the trusty sedan with the third-generation model, which started production at the Kwazulu-Natal plant in 1975.

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First-generation Corolla, 1966.1975 Toyota Corolla.1984 Toyota Corolla (Japanese spec).1999 Toyota Corolla.2007 Toyota Corolla.2014 Toyota Corolla.

Nonetheless, the following two decades saw the sedan, along with its Conquest and Tazz hatchback variants, shoot right to the top of the sales charts, while success was also attained on the track and rally stages, a highlight being Serge Damseaux's ten national rally titles at the wheel of Corolla derivatives.

How the Corolla came about

In the late 1950s, as Japan's economy recovered from World War II, automakers saw the need for an affordable car for the average family, most of whom didn't have a vehicle.

Toyota had originally offered the Publica, which wasn't very well received. In 1966, it introduced the sportier two-door Corolla with a jaw-dropping plan: to build 30 000 of them a month at a time when Toyota's total monthly production was 50 000 vehicles.

The car sold well as Japanese consumers aspired to get the "3 C's" (colour TVs, cars and coolers, as in aircons). Three years after launch, Corolla was the country's top-selling car and helped usher in an age of motorisation in Japan.

Going the "extra mile"

For the first-generation Corolla, the going-the-extra-mile "add-on" was its sportiness, despite being a family car. The man in charge of developing the original Corolla, Tatsuo Hasegawa gave the car a four-speed manual transmission operated by a gearshift on the floor, instead of the more typical 3-speed, column shifter at the time.

The Corolla also had an 1100cc engine, a bit larger than that of its rival, the Nissan Sunny.

No longer king, however

After 33 straight years as Japan's top-selling model, the Corolla lost the crown in Japan to Honda's Fit (Jazz) in 2002. Incidentally the sedan also lost its South African sales lead during this decade.

It is now also outsold (in Japan) by the Toyota Aqua and Prius hybrid-only models as domestic customers opt for more fuel-efficient cars.

The outlook at home is bleak, with the overall car market due to shrink further along with the population. Domestic sales of the Corolla are now about a quarter of their peak of around 400 000 in 1973.

But the Corolla is still a cash cow in the United States, where it is the second best-selling passenger car model so far this year, behind only the Toyota Camry.

IOL & Reuters

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