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Eiji Toyoda, who led Toyota's expansion into U.S., dies

TOKYO -- Eiji Toyoda, who spearheaded Toyota Motor Corp.'s expansion in the United States as the automaker's longest-serving president, has died. He was 100.

Toyoda died Tuesday, five days after his 100th birthday, because of heart failure at the Toyota Memorial Hospital in Toyota City, Japan, Toyota Motor said in a statement.

During his 57-year career, the younger cousin of Toyota Motor's founder helped reshape a maker of Chevrolet knockoffs into an automaker whose manufacturing efficiency became the envy of General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co.

By the time he stepped down in 1994, the company was assembling Corollas in the United States, had started the Lexus luxury brand and had initiated a project that would develop the world's most successful gas-electric vehicle, the Prius.

"He played an important role in leading Toyota's expansion into North America, and in developing the carmaker into a global company," Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a news conference in Tokyo. "He was someone who was indispensable to the nation's entire industry."

Toyoda was a cousin of Kiichiro Toyoda, the founder of the company that bears a slightly altered version of the family's name. He was one of six presidents to come from the family.

During the 69 years he worked at the company, based in central Japan's Toyota City, it rose from assembling its cars out of parts made by GM to being 16 times more valuable than the Detroit-based automaker. Toyoda pushed his company to learn from Ford and GM about mass production of automobiles.

Toyoda became president of Toyota Motor Co. in 1967 and served for 15 years -- longer than anyone before or since. In 1982, Toyota Motor and Toyota Motor Sales Co. merged to form Toyota Motor Corp. Toyoda became chairman of the combined company, serving until 1992.

Under his stewardship, the carmaker set up at least 10 new factories, began exporting to dozens of countries, and built a reputation for manufacturing excellence. The Corolla became the bestselling car of all time.

Toyoda had three sons and a daughter with his wife, Kazuko. He is survived by his eldest son, Kanshiro, according to Toyota's statement.

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