• Chunichi Shimbun

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A Toyota Motor Corp. off-road, four-wheel-drive Land Cruiser is driven through the desert in North Africa, carrying people on a converted cargo bed.

In China, one of the vehicles is used to cross a rapid stream, its hood soaked in water. Another is put to work over a rough and bumpy road in the Russian tundra.

In Australia, an older woman who ran an inn in the Outback for 30 years drove a Land Cruiser to pick up her customers or do shopping.

“Where you want to go, Land Cruiser will take you there — and bring you back.” This is how Toyota describes its longest-running model.

Sadayoshi Koyari, 61, who was Land Cruiser’s chief engineer for 13 years until last year, visited some 2,000 locations in 80 countries including across the Middle East, South America and Africa during his term. He saw firsthand how the vehicle, with 70 years of history and sold in more than 170 countries, served as a lifeline for many.

Dubbed the “missionary of Land Cruiser” by the vehicle’s hardcore fans around the world, Koyari enjoyed rallying during college.

After joining Toyota, he was first assigned to the development of suspension for the Hilux pickup truck. For 35 years since then, he has been involved in the development of body-on-frame constructions in which the engine, drivetrain and suspension are all mounted on a strong, ladder-shaped steel frame.

He practiced Toyota’s principle of “Go and see for yourself,” traveling anywhere if problems occurred to listen to the voices of users.

For Koyari, the whole planet was a testing course, and he reflected in durability tests input from around the world.

“Reflecting voices of the customers is what manufacturing cars is about,” he said.

Users’ expectations for the reliability, durability and road-handling abilities of the Land Cruiser have remained unchanged through its history of selling more than 10 million units by the end of last year.

In Australia, Koyari saw a sign that said there were no gas stations for the next 500 kilometers. Would it be possible to drive all the way to the nearest gas station — which might not be open — and come back without breaking down?

In Colombia, he saw a car driven with a flat tire.

These experiences made Koyari think of the worst-case scenarios while developing the vehicle, because just meeting Toyota’s design criteria wouldn’t be sufficient to protect the lives of users who drive in unexpected ways.

A Toyota Land Cruiser is used to traverse rough terrain in Russia. | TOYOTA MOTOR CORP. / VIA CHUNICHI SHIMBUN
A Toyota Land Cruiser is used to traverse rough terrain in Russia. | TOYOTA MOTOR CORP. / VIA CHUNICHI SHIMBUN

There were actually cases in which the car’s frame broke down.

One was in Papua New Guinea, where a Land Cruiser was used to carry heavy machinery up and down a steep slope every day to build a road to a gas field located in the highlands.

The other was in Australia, where the vehicle was used to travel a route with no road to install telegraph poles in the mountains.

In both cases, “the road conditions were within our expectations, but we didn’t think the vehicles would be used repeatedly under such stressful situations,” Koyari said.

Every time such an incident occurred, the development team conducted additional tests to increase the vehicle’s reliability. The driving distance for actual vehicle evaluation tests grew longer, reaching 1 million kilometers — equivalent to circling the Earth 25 times — for the current model.

The Land Cruiser is expected to undergo a full-model change this year, which marks the vehicle’s 70th anniversary. New functions will include anti-theft fingerprint authentication, which has been added while maintaining durability.

“Land Cruiser carries customers’ lives, luggage and dreams,” Koyari said. “When it undergoes a model change, people won’t change to the new model unless it is more unbreakable than the current one.

“People have confidence in Land Cruiser because of our commitment” to maintaining its toughness, he said.

This section features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published April 16.

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