Corolla – The Fifth Generation

The front wheel-drive Corolla.
“A spacious interior in a compact sedan. Clearing the hurdles to meet world standards.”


Fourth and Fifth Generation Corolla Development Leader
Fumio Agetsuma
Period of Assignment: 1974 – 1983

[Developer Profile]
Fumio Agetsuma joined Toyota Motor Corporation in 1955. After working in the development of the Corona and Mark II as the expert in body design, he participated as a member in the Corolla team in 1969. In August 1974, four months after the third generation Corolla was released, Agetsuma assumed the position of Chief Engineer of the fourth generation Corolla. In 1979 when the fourth generation entered the world market, Agetsuma continued with his service as Chief Engineer of the fifth generation Corolla.

“An appealing design is a design with high level originality that is ahead of the times.”

Avoid ordinary designs for everyone. Designs must have originality and express a clear message.

“The Corolla has a continuous responsibility of being the ‘bread and butter’ for various people in nations throughout the world.”

Place emphasis on the basic areas that have the greatest impact on passengers even though those areas may be low-key. Use sound proofing and vibration proofing technology to achieve a superior level of quietness.

The fifth generation Corolla was introduced on the market in May 1983, two months after the production total of Corollas reached the 10 million vehicles mark. Japan at that time was seeking a richer lifestyle, and preferences for high grade products were born. Individuals, particularly the younger generation, were exploring their own unique lifestyles, and their sense of values was diversifying. Providing an answer to this trend was the main issue for the fifth generation Corolla. The key development themes for the new model were “follow the worldwide trend of technical innovations and convert the Corolla into a front wheel drive passenger car,” and “pursue ample room and styling favored by the younger generation.”The list of appealing features and new technology incorporated in the new model could go on and on. Examples include a gracefully curved silhouette emphasizing the trends of the new era, a sleek aerodynamic body, a choice of drivetrains — front wheel drive for spacious interior and seating comfort or rear wheel drive for driving excitement and a sporty feel — a high performance engine with power and response and a fine-tuned suspension and power train.The fifth generation Corolla was developed to further strengthen the dominance of the Corolla as the bestselling car in the world. In the four years after its release, the fifth generation Corolla successfully acquired the No. 1 position in domestic sales and also received favorable reputations overseas.In March 1979, Fumio Agetsuma, who had served as Development leader of the previous generation, set forth policy to design the fifth generation Corolla as an FF (front engine, front wheel drive) model. The world at that time was beginning to show signs of FF-based passenger cars becoming the mainstream; and in 1978 Toyota released its first FF model. However, the idea of converting the Corolla to an FF design was not readily approved. Because the Corolla was a passenger car produced in record numbers, was loved by a wide range of users regardless of age or gender and was being exported throughout the world, extreme caution was taken before making drastic changes.In the first part of 1980 after the switch to an FF design had been approved, Agetsuma focused on the positioning of the fifth generation Corolla and stressed the need to “strive to ensure its status as a worldwide strategic vehicle that is a high quality, high grade family car and to reinforce its international competitive strength.” He also declared that this Corolla “should be an innovative vehicle that incorporates new breakthroughs in every area,” and thus launched the development policy for the new model.Concerning the FF vehicle, Agetsuma stated at that time, “I believed that competitive family cars both from Japan and overseas would soon move towards FF designs to pursue the merits of straight line stability at high speeds, handling performance and a spacious interior.” Two hurdles stood before Agetsuma, who advocated an FF design for the Corolla from this belief.The first hurdle was a technical problem. FF designs use a complex mechanism to transmit drive power to the road surface while steering with the front wheels. Because of this complex mechanism, apprehensions existed concerning durability and repair serviceability after miles of use on rough roads. The Corolla was being exported to many nations with poor road conditions and would be driven continuously for long periods of time on bad roads. In fact, around this time there was a European manufacturer that had catastrophic results in exporting FF vehicles to nations with poor road conditions.The second hurdle was that of cost. In 1979, preliminary calculations showed that the investment needed to convert the FR (front engine, rear wheel drive) Corolla plant, producing 727,000 units per year, into a FF Corolla plant would total 120 billion yen. This problem was solved with engineering technology that had made significant progress, and by producing the Corolla in both the FF and FR drivetrains. By adopting the FF design for the sedan, which stressed seating comfort, and the FR design for the coupe, which stressed driving excitement, and by using existing equipment as much as possible, the team successfully reduced the equipment investment expense by almost half. In addition, to those within the company who were opposed to the switch to an FF design, Agetsuma enthusiastically explained the value demanded by the times and the importance of the FF design. Finally in November 1979, the decision to convert to FF was official.