Akio Toyoda, grandson of the founder, is stepping down as CEO

A surprise change at the head of Toyota: 53-year-old Koji Sato will replace Akio Toyoda as CEO from April 1. The latter, 66, who has held the position since 2009, will replace Takeshi Uchiyamada, 76, as chairman of the group’s board of directors. These management changes should be formalized after the group’s AGM later this year.

The breath of “youth” in Toyota

Akio Toyoda extolled the virtues of his successor during an online press conference this Thursday, January 26. Especially his “youth”, his love of cars and the dynamism of his team.

“He’s young and has like-minded colleagues, so I expect him to be able to push boundaries that I can’t push.” he declared.

And to add:

“A leader must continue to stay on the front lines to drive change in an uncertain future. For this, endurance, energy and passion are important.”

Commented by auto analyst Tatsuo Yoshida in a Bloomberg Economics note:

“This is a positive thing, because the company will rejuvenate the management” While maintaining some sort of stability, Akio said he played a controlling role with Toyoda.

Koji Sato has been the group’s chief operating officer and brand director since January 2021. As of 2020, he is also the president of Toyota’s premium brand, Lexus International Co., as well as the group’s motorsports brand, Gazoo Racing. He joined Toyota in 1992 after studying mechanical engineering at the prestigious Waseda University in Tokyo.

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The departure of the charismatic CEO

The departure of Akio Toyoda marks the end of the Toyoda dynasty at the head of Toyota. He is actually the grandson of the famous Japanese industrialist Kiichiro Toyoda, who in the 1930s turned his family loom business into an automobile manufacturer (the name “Toyoda” was later changed to “Toyota”, which was considered luckier). His father, Shoichiro Toyoda, was also the symbolic leader of the group in the 1980s and 1990s.

Koji Sato takes over as CEO at the age of 53, the same age as Akio Toyoda took over the helm of the company in 2009, making him the youngest president and CEO in its history. The group, hit hard by the global economic crisis, tried to unite around the symbol of the founding family. After a hesitant first steps, motor racing enthusiast (and happy driver nicknamed “Morizo”) Akio Toyoda became a charismatic boss.

Thanks to its excellent positions, especially in China and North America, it has regularly promoted its group to the world number one in its sector in terms of sales volume. Since 2020, Toyota is again on the first place in this ranking, ahead of the German Volkswagen group.

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Late transition to electricity

Toyota, a champion of hybrid engines and one of the pioneers of hydrogen, unlike many of its major foreign rivals, has been slow to accelerate battery-electric vehicles, drawing much criticism, especially from environmental NGOs. The group finally announced major investments in this segment from the end of 2021, but almost reluctantly.

Thus, Akio Toyoda continued to regularly cast doubt on the prospects of electric cars for the mass market. Last year’s launch of the bZ4X SUV, the first model in Toyota’s first electric range, was halted by a humiliating recall campaign soon after it went on sale due to a problem with its tires.

Toyota, for its part, is switching to a battery-powered electric vehicle

As part of his predecessor’s continuity, Koji Sato promised to continue this Thursday “accelerating the transition to electrification”, when making a machine “Responding to diverse values ​​and local needs”. It’s the group’s current credo of not putting all their eggs in one basket and leaving as many options as possible to their customers, depending on the speed of the low-carbon transition in their region.

The group announced in early January that it plans to produce up to 10.6 million cars from the Toyota and Lexus brands this year. However, without exception, especially due to the shortage of semiconductors, the final figure is up to 10% below this “ceiling” goal – or about 9.5 million units. However, these targets are clearly higher than production in recent years (9.05 million units), including pre-pandemic 2019. The group is due to publish its 2022/23 third quarter results on February 9.

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(via AFP)