He will be succeeded by the President of Lexus and Gazoo Racing, Koji Sato.
CEO of Toyota, Akio Toyoda, has announced via live stream that he will be stepping down from his position with the company on April 1st. His successor, President of Lexus and Gazoo Racing, Chief Branding Officer, and Operating Officer, Koji Sato has been hand-picked by Toyoda to succeed him. Akio Toyoda will then take over the role of Chairman of the Board of Directors from Takeshi Uchiyamada.
Akio Toyoda is the grandson of Kiichiro Toyoda, the man who founded the company in 1937. He took over the position in 2009 during an exceptionally tumultuous time in the company's history and has held the role for the past 14 years. He has received criticism in recent years for the company's slow adoption of electric vehicles, deciding to rather focus on a wide variety of solutions to reduce the company's CO2 footprint with more conventional hybrids and the implementation of hydrogen fuel-cell technology in vehicles like the Mirai.
His successor, Koji Sato, has a long history with the company, having joined as an engineer fresh out of college in 1992 and quickly rising through the ranks. At 53 years old, he's relatively young compared to the 66-year-old Toyoda, and thus according to Toyoda, is better suited to guide the company through the uncertain transition to alternative forms of propulsion.
Toyoda stepping down isn't unexpected after all these years, especially with him making comments about his successor as recently as last year, but it seems nobody saw it coming just yet, including Sato. According to him, he was offered the position at the end of last year while on a trip with Toyoda to Thailand to celebrate the company's 60th anniversary of operations in the country.
"I didn't know how to respond," Sato recalled during the live stream. "I thought it was a joke."
We guess it's safe to say it wasn't, but the real question is how this move is going to affect future Toyota policy. We don't currently know what the reasoning was behind his decision to step down now, but the fact he picked someone he was close to, and will still take an important role on the board, leads us to believe Toyota's vision of becoming a mobility company that will cater to everyone's needs is still the plan in place.
Criticism has been that the company needs to employ more disruptive change to further environmental goals, and that while the company explores all of its options it also needs a greater push into full electricity. People point out that while exploring options is valid, the company has been lagging behind as a whole and not giving consumers what they want. There is certainly some truth to this, as Toyota and others have been losing EV market share to companies like Tesla and GM which shows the demand is out there.
Toyoda has not agreed with these sentiments and hasn't been one to mince words when he has criticized full EV adoption by other automakers. He's mentioned that there is a "silent majority" of people in the industry that agree options should be open and things like hydrogen better explored.
Sato, at least under Toyoda, agreed with these ideas, saying of hydrogen technology during the Thailand trip last year, "It won't be an immediate substitution for electric vehicles, but it's good for people to know that there are other options available when the increase of EVs eventually plateaus."
He brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the position, having worked on the Corolla and original Prius back in the day and, in recent years, working with the company's motorsport and luxury arms. There will, of course, be changes, and the most likely one will be the introduction of a few more dedicated electric models, but it may be that Toyota's direction is already set thanks to Toyoda.
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