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Strangely Japans Motor Industry was dominated by the US Big Three - General Motors, Ford and Chrysler before the Second World War.

The Toyoda family who had been making weaving machinery since 1926,  started to recruit personnel in 1933, mainly from GM, to form a small car division. 

Toyoda's first car, in 1935, was an unashamed copy of the Chrysler Airflow, with the 3.4-litre six-cylinder engine cribbed from Chevrolet. 

A year later the name of the firm was changed to Toyota: the pictogram needed just eight brush strokes against the 10 required to form Toyoda.

During the immediate post-war period of US occupation, production was restricted, but in 1955 Toyota launched its first totally wholly domestically produced model, the 1.5-litre Crown, and the enterprise began to take off. 

Two years later two Crowns were exported to the United States - and just five years later production had passed the million mark.

At the 1965 London Motor Show Toyota showed in Britain the 1.5-litre Corona. The car cost a touch  over 777, but unlike almost every European rival, it came with radio, heater, screen washers, cigarette lighter and whisper it a clock.

Sales in the UK were slow at first, staying at under 1,000 a year until 1970. In 1968 Toyota (GB) Ltd was formed.

Toyota brought something new to Europe - reliability. The Corona was replaced by the Corolla, which was to become the best-selling name in worlding history. 

The first really successful sports model was the MR2, launched in 1984. It was complemented by the Celica in 1983, with the turbocharged, 4wd version taking Bjorn Waldegard to victory in the Ivory Coast and Safari rallies. Thats not to say Toyota had not tried the sports car line before the 2000 GT had a starring role in a Bond film, though Toyota had to make a special convertable version to get the largish (BY JAPANESE STANDARDS) Connery into the diminutive little sportster.

While the small and medium car ranges prospered, with total sales by the mid-1980s placing it No 3 in world rankings, behind only GM and Ford, the more image-conscious large car sector kept eluding Toyota. The Crown was meant to be a challenge to Mercedes-Benz and Jaguar, but, whatever it offered in equipment - (air conditioning was standard in the early 1970s) - looks and handling always left a lot to be desired. Later, Toyota relaunched its luxury division in Western markets with more thought and considerable success under the banner of the Lexus brand name.

Toyota launched its first MPV, the big Previa, in 1990; in 1997 this was joined by the smaller Picnic. 

The latest Corolla is the umpteenth version of the model name first used back in 1966 though now is a medium front wheel drive hatch, rather than a rear wheel drive small saloon..

The company's Yaris supermini, launched in 1999 was well received for its innovative engineering despite its unusual appearance and enjoyed considerable success. An expanded mini-MPV-like version, the Yaris Verso, later joined it.

Its enormous Land-Cruiser 4x4s developed over a long period into  worthy Range-Rover rivals, in ability and luxury if not looks.

In 1992 Toyota became the third Japanese car maker to establish a manufacturing plant in the UK. Originally producing the Carina E range, the plant at Burnaston, Derbyshire, today produces Avensis and Corolla models; engines are made at another Toyota plant on Deeside. However in 1997 the company decided to build a new plant to produce the Yaris model in France. It is due for completion in 2001.

Increasingly Toyota has adopted a policy of designing cars to suit the different world markets; to this end it has development centres in Europe and North America as well as Japan. The majority of cars for sale outside Japan are produced outside Japan with substantial local component content. 

It is now the world's third largest car maker, producing more than 4.5 million cars a year. Corporate consolidation in 1999 saw Toyota GB come under the control of Toyota Motor Corporation, which itself listed on the London and New York stock exchanges.

Toyota is also among the manufacturers with a foothold in the future of the motor industry: its Prius model,  on European sale from  2000, is the first full-production hybrid vehicle. It is powered by an electric motor, assisted by a petrol engine. This arrangement is highly efficient and reduces emissions and fuel costs, without the disadvantages normally associated with electric vehicles; but it remained costly and is prompted largely by the needs of California's stringent emissions regulations.