One of Robert Zinn’s earliest memories is of riding around in the back with his two older brothers in a boxy economy car his father was trying to sell. The big sign mounted on the roof read “30 MPG,” but it was 1965 and gas was cheap, so nobody gave a damn. It was a perilous start to their father’s new business: selling cars in America from this relatively obscure Japanese company called Toyota.
It’s almost impossible to have a day where you go outside and you don’t see some kind of Toyota. They’re everywhere. A Toyota has been America’s best-selling car for over 10 years. The company has six manufacturing plants in the U.S. alone, and thousands of dealerships across the nation selling its cars. It, General Motors and Volkswagen are always vying to be the world’s largest automaker.
But it wasn’t always this way.
Toyota opened its very first dealership in the U.S. in Hollywood, California, on Oc. 31, 1957, with the charge into the American market headed up by Shotaro Kamiya, Toyota’s president of motor sales, as noted by Hemmings. In the mid-1950s, the company sent a few cars over to test on our roads in order to work out a plan to sell them here.
From the story:
According to Toyota USA archivist Jason Bell, Toyota initially wanted to sell the cars itself through a handful of centralized locations, but Shoji Hattori, the company’s executive vice president, advised the company to instead adopt the dealership model already prevalent in the United States.
But what was it like on the ground, to be one of those early import dealerships? I was lucky enough to get to talk with Robert Zinn over the phone recently, who remembered growing up while his dad, Dave Zinn, established Triangle Toyota.
In 1965, it was Florida’s first.
Being the new kid on the block didn’t come without its problems, though. Post-war America was saturated with patriotism; white picket fences in suburbia with a big, American car in the driveway was the dream for many. What the hell was “down-sizing?”
At the time in America, the domestic market dominated everything. People owned imports, sure, but that pretty much meant the Volkswagen Beetle or British sports cars. A few oddballs and weirdos might own Renaults or Saabs or Volvos, but those brands were far from mainstream. Japanese brands were even further out, especially outside of California.
Dave Zinn didn’t start out looking to be the first Toyota salesman in the state. He began his career selling new and used Chevys at another dealer. After failing to secure a management position, he left to seek his own fortune. He was desperate for any new car franchise, because only then could you also get good insurance a