The South African Press Association reports that Toyota SA executive chairman Bert Wessels died of an apparent heart attack on Monday evening.

Wessels, 58, son of the founder of Toyota SA, Dr Albert Wessels, joined Toyota SA on completion of a BSc in mechanical engineering at the University of Cape Town and spent 1969 working at Toyota Motor Corporation in Japan, studying production methods.

On his return to South Africa he was involved in a number of manufacturing projects, including the commissioning of the heavy truck assembly plant in Prospecton near Durban in 1974.

Wessels was transferred to the Toyota Marketing Company as director of heavy trucks and buses in 1976 and was appointed marketing director and vice-chairman of Toyota SA in 1980.

Four years later he became executive director of Toyota Marketing Company and in 1988 was appointed chief executive officer of Toyota SA.

In 1991 Wessels was made executive chairman of Toyota SA and vice-chairman of Wesco Investments Limited - the positions he held until his death.

Wessels also served several terms as president of the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of SA.

The company said his relationship with employees at Toyota SA was that of a father figure in a business that had grown from a family enterprise, established by his father, to playing a major role in Toyota retaining market leadership in South Africa for the past 23 years, the SAPA report said.