The Land Cruiser: A Journey: Part 1

Toyota recently unveiled the all-new Land Cruiser 300 Series to a global audience, in a year that marks the 70th anniversary of the Land Cruiser.

Now available in 170 countries, the Toyota Land Cruiser lineup consists of three different series directly descended from the original BJ: the mainstay Heavy Duty 70 Series, the flagship Station Wagon (of which the 300 Series is the most recent model) showcasing the latest technology, and the Light Duty Prado, designed for more conventional, wide-ranging use. Toyota has produced a total of more than 10 million Land Cruisers, topped only by its Corolla and Hilux models. 

Toyota Times spoke with two current chief engineers, Sadayoshi Koyari and Takami Yokoo, about the model’s history and philosophy. 

Fondly known as Mr Land Cruiser, Koyari is currently in charge of the 70 Series and Prado. He joined Toyota in 1985, and his involvement in Land Cruiser development began with chassis design for the Hilux. Koyari describes his experience of the Land Cruiser’s origins.

“After many years of requesting to be involved in Land Cruiser development, I was finally transferred to the product planning division in 2001. Right away, Watanabe, who was the Land Cruiser’s chief engineer at the time, sent me to meet with customers in the Middle East. This was back when Dubai only had about two skyscrapers. The experience gave me an immediate understanding of the trust customers place in the Land Cruiser. 

 The Middle East is known for its deserts. In the region’s largest country, Saudi Arabia, a single highway stretches through the desert to link the capital Riyadh with the commercial hub of Jeddah, a distance of some 930 kilometres. Locals barrel down that road as fast as possible in temperatures above 50 degrees Celsius. 

 The country’s south, meanwhile, is mountainous, with punishing mountain roads that run along the borders between the various nations on the Arabian Peninsula. Along the flat desert coastlines of the UAE and Oman, Land Cruisers are used by seine fishermen to haul in nets, and also as police vehicles or for sightseeing tours through the desert. In short, the Land Cruiser is a car that sustains the lifestyles of local people. 

 Visiting the area gave me a first-hand sense of why drivers continue to seek ‘Land Cruiser-ness’, the core attributes that we have cultivated since the first generation – reliability, durability and drivability on rough terrain.” 

Takami Yokoo began his time at Toyota designing drivetrain components, before becoming involved in Land Cruiser development in the mid-2010s.Takami Yokoo began his time at Toyota designing drivetrain components, before becoming involved in Land Cruiser development in the mid-2010s. He served as chief engineer for the 300 Series. 

“In 2014, when Koyari was chief engineer for all three series (Station Wagon, Heavy Duty, Prado), I transferred from the drivetrain design team to the department that oversees overall vehicle development. As I was wondering how they would give me an overview of the entire development process, my first assignment was to visit Australia. This was within the framework of the 5 Continents Drive Project. For development engineers such as myself, seeing local conditions for ourselves revealed countless things that we never would have known by staying in the office. 

 In Australia, for example, one customer who runs a crocodile park told us how Land Cruisers had helped his business grow since the very beginning. The inland areas, known as the outback, contain many graded yet unpaved roads, some rutted to resemble washboards, others where visibility is obscured by dust for several minutes whenever a car passes along. 

Meanwhile, rains can cause streams that cut across roads. Locals spend hours tearing down these unbelievably rough roads. That’s how our cars are used. It might sound strange, but the experience showed me the reality and the context behind the Land Cruiser’s reputation among customers as a vehicle that allows them to go anywhere and everywhere and come back alive and safe.” 

Today, some 90 percent of Land Cruisers sold in the Japanese market are Prados, while station wagons make up around 10 percent. In the Middle East, on the other hand, station wagons account for the majority of sales, where comfort is a priority; in the Land Cruiser’s second home of Australia, sales are fairly even across all three lines, including the 70 Series.  
 In Africa, where vehicles often need to take on ungraded roads, the practical aspects of the 70 Series make it the dominant choice, but there is also significant demand for station wagons from international organisations involved in humanitarian aid, medical care and educational activities. 

 Given that it is used in environments vastly different from Japan, the Land Cruiser’s development requirements go beyond merely achieving an assortment of target specifications. To ensure that each successive model has the same reliability, durability and drivability on rough terrain, developers must start with genchi genbutsu – to personally see and feel the fact that these cars are a lifeline for the people on board, contributing to their livelihoods and communities. 

The first BJ Series  

The Land Cruiser started with the arrival of the first-generation BJ Series in 1951. “The development of the original BJ Series came about when, in 1950, the American military and the National Police Reserve (predecessor of the Self-Defense Forces) requested a new 4WD vehicle,” explains Koyari.  

The evolution of the Toyota Land Cruiser

“Mitsubishi’s CJ3B Jeep was ultimately chosen for its compatibility with US military vehicles, but Hanji Umehara, who oversaw the development of the first-generation BJ Series, was confident that the car they had made was as good as any jeep. After an American military’s jeep managed to reach the fifth station on Mt Fuji, Toyota set itself the challenge of going higher.” 
 According to Koyari, who has scoured articles and documents from that time, the BJ’s ascent of Mt Fuji began from Yoshida-guchi and took around three hours to reach the fifth station. From there, however, the drivers risked their lives scaling a trackless, rocky path. That they needed six hours to climb from the fifth to the sixth station is indicative of the arduousness of their task. 

 Though not exactly history repeating itself, the team learned from the story of Magaki Heikuro, an early Edo-period equestrian master who climbed the stairs of the Atago Shrine on horseback. Upon checking the site, the team found that handrails would pose a problem, so they took the Land Cruiser to attempt similar stone steps at Mt Fudo in the city of Okazaki. Just as Heikuro had done, test driver Heiichiro and his team achieved the spectacular feat by ascending and descending in a zigzag manner. That shows how much confidence they had in the Land Cruiser they had built. 

 As the person who gave the Toyota Land Cruiser its name, Umehara’s faith and love for the car ran deeper than most, but it also stemmed from the model’s rocky start. It was based on the bitterness of being rejected by the American military, rather than immediately winning trust.