November marks the 50th anniversary of the Toyota Corolla, one of the most enduring automotive nameplates in history and thanks to 43 million sales and counting, the most popular car of all time. To celebrate this milestone, Toyota has unveiled a limited edition 50th Anniversary edition of the compact car for US customers that gets a unique paint finish, a sharper interior and a host of active safety and creature comfort systems as standard.
Toyota jokes that the touchscreen infotainment system, Bluetooth hands-free smartphone connectivity and USB charging points represent a quantum leap from the AM radio that came in the first Corollas, but nothing could be further from the truth.
As well as build quality and reliability (achieved through keeping design and 1100cc powerplant very, very simple), what helped Japanese car makers in general and Toyota, in particular, stand out from European and US competitors when they took their cars beyond domestic borders was standard equipment.
Everything from AM radios to climate control and power windows found their way into Toyotas as standard, at a time when someone putting a deposit down on a Ford would have to specify the same equipment as options.
This and the fact that the Corolla was built from the ground up to meet the new nuclear family’s needs. People moving out to the Japanese suburbs and suddenly in need of their first automobile found that the Corolla was a perfect fit for their lives. Its seats were bigger and more comfortable, it had a floor, not column mounted, gear shift to make highway driving more relaxing and it used McPherson strut suspension.
In this respect, it is the Japanese Beetle – a true people’s car. However, unlike the VW bug, which stayed stylistically untouched throughout its entire air-cooled lifetime, Toyota has continually updated and improved the Corolla. And as it is built in different countries around the world, including the US since 1968, it is also built to different specifications. The American version is wider, handling is tuned for the European market and so on.
However, with every generation of the model that has followed (It is now in its 11th generation) the company has kept its focus on what the typical family needs from a car, even if it is now selling to families globally. Unfortunately, by creating a car that is purely about ticking boxes, it is often unfairly derided as a white good – i.e. the automotive equivalent of a washing machine or fridge.
But that’s also the car’s greatest strength – it is and always has been, above all, a must-have modern convenience. Italian cars might have more passion, American cars more flamboyance, and German cars more precision, but very few are as reliable as a Toyota.