Toyota is one of the world’s leading automotive manufacturers, with a lineup consisting of cars, minivans, trucks, SUVs, and, most recently, electric vehicles.
The one thing missing from Toyota’s extensive lineup is a motorcycle, but that hasn’t always been the case. Just after WWII, Toyota Motor Corporation was the parent of subsidiary Toyo Motors and did produce motorcycles—several of them actually.
In more recent years (2009), there was a JGR/Toyota motocross concept bike that bore the Toyota name on the fuel tank; however, there has been nothing remotely like a motorcycle since.
Let’s take a look at Toyota’s sparse history of producing two-wheeled machines.
The 1949–1960 era
In 1942, Kazuo Kawamata took a part-time job working at the Toyota Research Lab.
He had previously helped develop the Roland, which was Japan’s first front-wheel drive car. This had impressed Kiichiro Toyoda, the founder of Toyota, and thus Kawamata scored a new job.
Kawamata had once been a professional rider for Harley-Davidson, so with his motorcycle background, he started work on combustion engines for bicycles, and by 1949 he founded Toyo Motors, which became a subsidiary of Toyota.
Post-war Japan was in desperate need of cheap, reliable transport and motor-bicycles, and eventually, motorcycles were built to fill this gap. Toyo Motors stepped up to the mark and by 1952, annual production was around 10,000 units per year.
The motorcycles produced were all two-strokes and varied in capacity from 50cc–256cc. The company also sold clip-on engine kits named the T9 and Roll Power R5 to private purchasers.
Unfortunately, the success was short-lived due to poor reliability and competition that mostly came from Honda.
Toyo Motors had outsourced most of the manufacturing, and the components were then assembled in the Kariya factory. This meant that the components were not up to scratch, the quality control wasn’t consistent, and when Kawamata was approached about producing components in-house, he didn’t seem interested.
In 1958, Honda released the Super Cub, an extremely reliable and affordable motorcycle that beat any competition with ease. The Super Cub dominated the gap in the Japanese market for efficient transport, and other manufacturers didn’t really stand a chance, especially if the bikes weren’t reliable.
By 1961, Toyota had ended its motorcycle production to focus on its other automotive projects.
In collaboration at the 2009 SEMA show, Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing Motocross team (JGR) exhibited a concept motocross bike.
They used a Yamaha YZ450F as a base for the concept, and the bike featured a very light special frame along with carbon-fiber bodywork. The fuel tank was just one component of a completely customized design, which resulted in a premium and exotic feel.
The concept was never anything more than just that one-off design, and we are yet to see any other motorcycle bearing Toyota’s name.
The Japanese Big Four manufacturers—Honda, Suzuki, Yamaha, and Kawasaki—are known for having several strings in their bows, along with their motorcycles, for example, Honda, with its ATVs, power equipment, and automobiles.
It appears that Toyota, for the time being, isn’t interested in delving into the motorcycle industry, but who knows—that could all change, especially with the development of electric and hydrogen-powered vehicles.