The “People’s Car” From Dream to Reality

released on July 2006


The first prototype of the Publica
September 1956

The recent global introduction of the second-generation Yaris is a milestone in a process of development, which began some fifty years ago with the production of Toyota’s first “people’s car” — the Publica.

It was in the 1950s — a good ten years before the birth of the Corolla — that Toyota first turned its attention towards developing small cars. The company always had dreamed of making a “people’s car,” or an affordably priced, mass-produced small car; but it wasn’t until after World War II that it finally had the chance to turn this dream into a reality. With a retail price of ¥360,000 (US$1,000) set as the development target, it took six years of hard work and numerous prototypes until the resulting car debuted at the 1960 All-Japan Motor Show (now Tokyo Motor Show).

To build on excitement generated by the motor show and to bring the car closer to the hearts of the people, Toyota advertised nationally, asking the public to name the car. Incredibly, more than one million people responded, and eventually the name “Publica,” a clever combination of “public” and “car,” was chosen. Toyota continued its promotional efforts after the car was released in 1961, using various events and campaigns to further etch the Publica into people’s minds, thereby ushering in a modern era of marketing in Japan.

The Publica takes shape on the workshop bench.

Unfortunately, however, the Publica was not initially the success Toyota had hoped it would be — times had changed. As the effects of war on the economy gradually disappeared, it became clear that customers wanted cars which symbolized their aspirations — and that the Publica was simply too basic. After kaizen (continuous improvement), Toyota released a luxury version of the car in July 1963: the Publica Deluxe. Within six months sales had shot up 70%, and the Publica thus became quite the hit after all, affording Toyota an overwhelmingly strong position in the small passenger car market.

Not only did the Publica’s popularity bode well for its successors — the Publica Starlet (1973-1978), the Starlet (1978-1999) and the Yaris (1999-), it also left an indelible mark on the way Toyota operates. Through trial and error, learning from mistakes as it went, Toyota improved development techniques and its sales and service infrastructure, which went on to support the explosive success of later models. It is projects like this which gave birth to Toyota principles, such as kaizen, and which paved the way for the innovation Toyota is renowned for to this day.

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    Crowds around the brand-new “people’s car” at the 1960 All-Japan Motor Show

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    The 1963 Publica Deluxe catalog

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