At the end of the 20th century, the Japanese automobile industry is suffering from the long depression of Japanese economy to such an extent
that sorne of Japanese carmakers were not able to survive without cooperating with foreign powerful carmakers. Nissan has been in restructuring under the French managers dispatched by Renault. Suzuki and Isuzu began to reinforce their cooperation with GM, whereas Fuji Heavy Industry (Subaru) and Mitsubishi are searching for their Western partners. It is only Toyota and Honda that seem to be able to compete by themselves on globalized automobile markets. Irony of the history, because until the end of the 1980s all Japanese carmakers were regarded as the most competitive companies of the world by incarnating the 'Lean Production' model whose basic model is the Toyota Production System. This stereotype has to be dismissed, because they have been having neither the same management nor the same strategy. This paper then
tries to show the history of Japanese automobile industry from its very beginning to mid-1990 when the majority of carmakers are facing a crisis. In doing so, it presents the specifie characteristics of Toyota by placing it in the historical perspective.