TOKYO – Toyota set up a new leadership team Thursday in what the Japanese automaker said was a move to stay abreast of social changes like electrification and becoming a wider “mobility company.”
Chief Executive and President Akio Toyoda, grandson of the company's founder, will become chairman. He was prominent in the announcement and appeared to be still very much in control. He has been stressing the concept of “mobility,” which reflects his view that people may opt for various ways to get around, other than owning cars.
Chief branding officer Koji Sato, who has been managing the Lexus luxury division and Toyota motor racing, becomes Toyota's president and CEO.
“I am going to give it my all,” Sato said. “The new team will lead the shift in the transition to a mobility company to provide the freedom of mobility to all people.”
Sato, 53, appeared in an online news conference with Toyoda and Takeshi Uchiyamada, who is seen as the “father” of the Prius hybrid model and is giving up the title of chairman.
The appointments still need shareholders' approval, scheduled for the next general meeting. Toyoda said Uchiyamada's decision to quit as chairman propelled him to take that job and give up the presidency.
Toyota Motor Corp. announced the leadership reshuffle without any forewarning, but it had a lively promotional video prepared to highlight Toyoda and Sato’s love for electric vehicles and fast cars.
Toyoda, who took over as CEO of Toyota in 2009, and is an avid racer, has seen the company through various hard times, like the global financial crisis and the massive recall scandal in the U.S., over “unintended acceleration,” in 2010, when he appeared before Congress.
Although Toyota is the top Japanese company in terms of market value, it has been criticized in recent years as falling behind in the industry's move toward electric vehicles amid a growing concern about climate change.
The handover appears to be the company's effort to give the leadership team a younger face, while maintaining the general vision and philosophy of the company, famed for founding “just in time" manufacturing and for quality products.
Like other automakers, Toyota has contended with a supply crunch in semiconductors and other parts, because of production snags caused by disruptions from the pandemic. The problem hurt Toyota, which also makes the Camry sedan and bZ4X electric car, because it could not keep up with customer demand.
Toyota has recently indicated it will be more aggressive about electric vehicles and has shown prototypes at events. Earlier it had said that a scarcity of charging stations might slow adoption of EVs. Most of the cars now on the roads are still not electric.
Toyoda had earlier hinted he was thinking about who might succeed him. He has also often spoken of his concerns about the future of the car industry.
Hisao Inoue, who has written books about Toyota, said its leadership is facing a lot of challenges, likely more daunting than what Toyoda faced as CEO, because the auto industry is undergoing a “once in a century transformation.”
“A fundamental change is in order,” he said.
Toyota, like other manufacturers, is saddled with higher prices because of recent inflationary pressures. It has scored such success with its Prius and other hybrids, which switch back and forth between an electric motor and gas engine, that it has tended to lag in pushing EVs, said Inoue.
Toyoda said he has made it through times “when there was no right answer,” with sheer passion.
“We have managed to survive somehow,” he said.
Yuri Kageyama is on Twitter https://twitter.com/yurikageyama
Mari Yamaguchi is on Twitter https://twitter.com/mariyamaguchi