Ask any car enthusiast the two most popular heritage vehicles of Toyota, and the Land Cruiser and Corolla are usually mentioned. While the Land Cruiser gets the nod for helping Toyota make inroads into the high-end market with its popular full-sized SUV, it is the Corolla that has made an impact on the lives of millions of motorists since 1966.
With a total production of over 40 million vehicles in more than 150 countries, Toyota claims the Corolla is “The World’s Most Popular Car.” That is not an empty boast.
In the Philippines, the Corolla was not only the bread-and-butter vehicle of Toyota Motor Philippines Corporation, at least before mid-sized SUVs became popular, but it became the benchmark for durability and ease of maintenance. Some Corolla models, like the seventh-generation “big body” also acquired a reputation for being almost indestructible. There are also accounts of that generation of Corolla in the United States serving their owners way beyond 300,000 miles or 480,000 kilometers if well maintained.
“This seventh generation Corolla debuted in June 1991 with the catchphrase ‘Big and Safety.’ However, in 1991, the booming economy of Japan began to take a downward turn, and this impacted new car sales throughout the country. The seventh generation, which had been developed as a masterpiece, was no exception, and, unfortunately, the sales volume in Japan did not grow as had been expected. Needs of the public also began to change as focus shifted to quality as well as price. The seventh generation Corolla boasted a high level of completeness and was replete with abundant equipment that appealed to the consumer,” Toyota said in its webpages devoted to the Corolla.
Akihiko Saito was the sixth- and seventh-generation Corolla Development Leader whose period of assignment was 1984 – 1991. Sales of the seventh-generation Corolla topped 2.4 million units.
“In fact, many seventh-generation Corollas can still be seen on the road as it has maintained its image as a good car, and it still is treasured by many even today,” Toyota added.
The first generation Corolla was born in 1966 at a time when motorization was taking root in Japan and motorists needed a family-oriented vehicle.
“That vehicle was the Toyota Corolla, which would soon become one of the most popular family cars worldwide. The Corolla was introduced with the catchphrase, ‘The most wanted car by the market — presented to the world by bringing together the essence of Toyota’s technology.’ It was developed by widely adopting technologies that were firsts for a domestically produced car and world firsts as a family car,” Toyota said.
Tatsuo Hasegawa was assigned to the Corolla’s development in 1963-1974. He would become Assistant General Manager of the Product Planning Division, responsible for managing the chief engineers of each project, and was involved in the development of the second-generation Corolla.
Toyota claims the first-generation Corolla was revolutionary for its time because it offered its separate bucket-type seats and ample rear seat space. It also had good ceiling height and featured a sporty floor-mounted shift lever that was not common for the time.
While the earlier generations of Corollas were improvements based on previous platforms, there were occasions when Toyota designers would start from scratch to develop the next generation of its best-selling sedan.
And it was in 2000 that Toyota did come up with another Corolla that was completely different from the generation it replaced. That Corolla would also be known as the Altis in some markets, including the Philippines.
“If we place too much emphasis on the Corolla as a ‘can’t fail’ vehicle, we will end up overprotecting past designs. To avoid developing products based on the manufacturer concept of placing priority on cost reductions and production ease, Yoshida stressed the need to separate from the Corolla image of the past and strive to construct a ‘new global standard for compact cars’ as they embarked on the developments of a new generation Corolla,” Toyota said. Takeshi Yoshida was assigned to head the Corolla’s development in 1997-2002.
Today, the Corolla remains one of the most popular sedans in the world despite the growing popularity of compact and sub-compact SUVs. It even celebrated its 50th anniversary last year. The usual engine package of the Corolla was a four-cylinder multi-valve engine that provided adequate power and torque. The latest Corolla, with its 1.8-liter engine with variable valve timing, produced 140 horsepower.
According to businessinsider.com, the Corolla ranked No. 6 in the list of the Top 20 selling vehicles in the US, including trucks and SUVs. A total of 360,483 units of the latest generation Corolla were sold in the US.
News that Mitsubishi is giving up production of the Lancer because of the growing popularity of SUVs is sad news for those who have grown up in an era where sedans where the most popular vehicles on the road.
Perhaps a few more car makers might give up their sub-compact, compact, mid-sized or even full-sized sedans in the future given the growing popularity of SUVs. But for Toyota, the Corolla will likely continue to be one the company’s popular brand builders. Besides, it is very hard for a heritage vehicle to just disappear from the horizon, and with 40 million cars sold in its 50-year history, the Corolla is truly a class act in automotive history.