An undated photo of Tatsuro Toyoda. (Toyota Motor Corp./AP)

Tatsuro Toyoda, the former Toyota Motor Corp. president who led the company’s climb to become one of the world’s top automakers, died Dec. 30. He was 88.

The cause was pneumonia, the Japanese automaker said. Other details were not disclosed.

Mr. Toyoda, the automaker’s seventh president and son of the company’s founder, stepped down from the position in 1995, while continuing in other posts, such as adviser, a title he held until his death.

He was instrumental in setting up a California joint venture with U.S. rival General Motors in 1984, called NUMMI, or New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. At that time, it was heralded as a pioneering international collaboration.

Mr. Toyoda served as NUMMI’s first president and became known for his efforts to bring Toyota’s corporate culture of super-efficiency, teamwork and empowering workers together with American culture, including introducing a new style of labor-management relations.

Tatsuro Toyoda in 1984. (Paul Sakuma/Toyota Motor Corpo/AP)

Mr. Toyoda’s father, Kiichiro Toyoda, founded the company in 1937. He succeeded his brother Shoichiro Toyoda as company president. The current president, Akio Toyoda, is Shoichiro Toyoda’s son.

The company name is spelled and pronounced with a “T,” instead of the “D’’ as in the family name, because it was considered to bring luck, according to fortune-telling.

Born in 1929, Tatsuro Toyoda was a graduate of the University of Tokyo, earning a degree in mechanical engineering.

The rural house that marks the automaker’s birthplace is preserved as a historic monument. Toyota employees still repeat the sayings handed down by the family leaders about hard work and a hands-on approach.

In 1953, Mr. Toyoda joined Toyota, which now makes the Prius hybrid, Camry sedan and Lexus luxury models, and rivals Volkswagen, General Motors and the Renault-Nissan alliance as a top automaker in annual global vehicle sales.

Mr. Toyoda earned an MBA in 1958 from New York University, where he studied under quality-control expert W. Edwards Deming, who was credited with influencing Japanese manufacturing and helping to develop its reputation for quality.

A complete list of survivors was not immediately available.