With the shift of the last of its manufacturing departments from Port Melbourne to its Altona plant, Toyota has closed a chapter in the history of the company that first began operations in Australia in the early 1960s.

The Port Melbourne plant is an historic site for the Australian motor industry, having commenced operations in 1952. It was there that the Tiara, the first Toyota ever built outside Japan was assembled in April 1963.

More than one million Toyotas were built at Port Melbourne up to 1994 and the company retained manufacturing operations there until May this year. The final automotive operations – including bumper bar production and the assembly of small components – have now been transferred to Altona.

The president of Toyota Motor Corporation Australia Ltd, Ted Okada, said Port Melbourne played a significant role in Toyota’s long and proud history of manufacturing in Victoria.

“The end of production at Port Melbourne is a great opportunity to recognise and celebrate the many thousands of people who have worked here and made it such an iconic landmark,” said Okada.

“Without their hard work, skill and dedication, Toyota could not have become the number one car brand in Australia. However, we constantly strive to improve every aspect of production to meet quality and cost expectations globally, especially now that most of the cars we produce are sold overseas.

“It was important to consolidate our operations and we have invested heavily in new facilities at Altona in preparation for the introduction of the new Camry and Aurion models this year.”

Toyota was a fledgling car company that had never built a car outside Japan when it placed trust in a group of Australians to produce the Toyota Tiara from a kit in April 1963. Those first tentative steps into foreign manufacture at Port Melbourne led to Toyota becoming a global giant with plants all around the world.

Today, the automotive world might learn from Toyota, but forty-three years ago it was Toyota learning from the crew at Australian Motor Industries, AMI, who were vastly experienced at assembling  completely knocked down packs from British and American car makers.

“It was our first step into a westernised country,” said Hideyo Tamura, a former senior Toyota executive.

“We got the confidence that our production system worked overseas. Only after we had experience in Australia did we move into other countries. Had we not succeeded in Australia, we would not have been encouraged to go further.”

Despite numerous cultural, communication and technical problems, the Tiara and then the Corona, Crown and Corolla established Toyota as a solid and reliable brand in Australia.

From humble beginnings with the Tiara in 1963, when it had thrown a lifeline to the struggling AMI as a mere supplier, Toyota gradually took control of its Australian operations.

AMI became AMI-Toyota, then Toyota Manufacturing Australia and finally, in 1989, Toyota Motor Corporation Australia.

Globally, Toyota has become arguably the most dominant force in the automotive world. But it may not have worked out that way had it not been for a group of talented Australians in Port Melbourne. 

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