We believe that Toyoda is a visionary who fully understands the ins and outs of mobility, despite what some think.
After almost 14 years on the job, Akio Toyoda has announced that he will be stepping down from his current roles as President and CEO to become Chairman of the Board of Directors of Toyota Motor Corporation. The news was somewhat unexpected, and some have welcomed it while others think it may be a bad move.
We know that Toyoda, grandson of the automaker's founder, will continue to have an active role in the company and its policies going forward, but we're not going to speculate about what the future holds for the great man. Instead, we're going to explain why we think he's an example for other automotive CEOs to follow and why his outspoken comments about the industry make sense for the present climate as well as the future.
We'll start with the most obvious reason we admire the man: like Ford CEO Jim Farley, he's an avid racing driver. Using the pseudonym Morizo Kinoshita, Toyoda became something of a cult hero. Among his exploits, he raced the Lexus LFA in the 24 Hours Nurburgring in 2009 and came home in a respectable fourth position in class. But even if his endeavors behind the wheel don't impress you, he deserves a tip of the hat for what he did in 2016 - approve a project that would ultimately become the epic GR Yaris, one of the finest hot hatches of our time (albeit one not sold in America). He acted as a development driver for this and eventually raced it in the Super Taikyu Series, where the cars use carbon-neutral fuels.
Those who grew up lusting after an A80 Toyota Supra dreamed of the day when the brand would be cool again. When it would no longer be the brand you first thought of when ordering an Uber. We wanted Toyota to again be worthy of a spot in a Fast & Furious film or in a box behind the start line of a prestigious race. With Toyoda in charge, these things have happened. Toyota tested the sports car waters with the predecessor to the GR86, and then we got the GR Supra, GR Yaris, and GR Corolla.
The GR86 has been hailed as one of the most engaging and well-sorted RWD sports cars on the market. The GR Supra has left its mark on films, time attack events, drag races, hill climbs, and more. The GR Yaris has obliterated its opponents in the World Rally Championship. And the GR Corolla is arguably the best all-round hot hatch you can buy. The fact that the top-tier GR Corolla bears Toyoda's nickname highlights how important he has been to the renaissance of Toyota as a brand worthy of a poster on a kid's bedroom wall.
On numerous occasions, Toyoda has expressed his disdain for the industry's incessant obsession with glorifying all-electric mobility as the silver bullet to cure all the world's automotive challenges, and numerous studies since EVs have risen to mainstream popularity suggest he may be right. EVs can worsen emissions, are not adequately supported by the current infrastructure, can be hazardous to procure materials for, weigh more than traditional cars, and are simply not suitable for all markets worldwide. Never mind the average purchase price.
Regardless of what political policy says, Toyoda has stuck to his guns because he believes that alternatives to pure EVs are worth investing in. He has famously said, "Carbon is our enemy, not the internal combustion engine." BMW CEO Oliver Zipse shares similar sentiments, and Ford's Farley says the Blue Oval needs combustion.
Interstingly, new data reveals that confidence in EVs is waning, suggesting that BMW, Ford, and Toyota may well be right not to put all their automotive eggs in the electric basket.
Climate activists who believe EVs are the only true cure for climate challenges have accused the likes of Toyota and BMW of failing to make "necessary" changes to their policy in the interest of environmental health, claiming that these automakers don't care about people or the planet. But Toyoda and those like him understand that EVs are not suitable for everyone, which is why they continue developing numerous types of cars and technologies.
As we mentioned earlier, Toyota has invested fortunes in carbon-neutral fuels. It has also continued to explore and develop hydrogen technology. Moreover, it keeps refining hybrid technology for better performance and efficiency, helping to ensure that the company can look after customers all over the world.
In addition, when Toyota had a quality control scandal more than a decade ago, Toyoda addressed Congress and was visibly moved by his marque's failure to meet consumers' expectations.
Toyoda has been a company man for longer than some automakers have existed, and that means he understands his staff, the automotive lifestyle culture, and the public in its many forms. Most importantly, he understands Toyota's responsibilities to customers and shareholders, working actively to meet their demands rather than shipping out at the first sign of trouble.
He's a man of conviction and commitment, and that's worth acknowledging. Toyoda loves what he does, through the good and bad, and his passion is contagious. While so many other CEOs only seem to care about the share price or the bottom line, Toyoda understands that the automaker he works for is a national and global treasure and works hard to maintain that status.
In summary, we think the world needs more people like "Morizo," a man who can make an everyday, mass-market brand attractive, sexy, and fun. A man who fully understands the company he works in. A man who considers the impact first-world policy can have on less wealthy markets and their customers. A man who says what he believes and sticks to it. A man who fixes problems and takes responsibility for mistakes. It's also worth mentioning that Akio Toyoda is a man who avoids personal scandal while still indulging his personal passions (ahem, Elon).
These qualities and the Japanese culture are key to Toyoda's longevity, and he'll probably maintain his new role for another decade, so don't think he's stepping aside because he's getting too tired. Toyoda's influence will still be felt for years to come, and his successor (a man who seems to be cut from similar cloth) will be lapping up every ounce of experience he can from one of the world's greatest CEOs, automotive or otherwise.
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