Toyota CEO and President Akio Toyoda Steps Down, Lexus Chief Koji Sato to Take Over

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Toyota Motor Corporation CEO and president Akio Toyoda is set to step down this April, after being in the driver's seat of the global automotive giant for 14 years.

The 66-year old businessman and grandson of the company's founder, Kiichiro Toyoda, made the sudden anouncement in the Toyota Times online channel yesterday, where he was accompanied by Lexus chief Koji Sato and outgoing Toyota chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada.

Sato, who is also Toyota's Chief Branding Officer, is set to take over the CEO role while Toyoda himself will step up as the company's new chairman of the board of directors. Uchiyamada, also known as the "father of the Prius" for his contributions towards developing Toyota's world-renowned hybrid car, will retire but stay on as a member of the board.

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There were mixed responses in light of the change in leadership. Industry observers and enthusiasts were disappointed by the announcement, crediting Toyoda for revitalising the company and bringing back exciting cars to the mass market, like the GR Yaris and GR Supra.

He also weathered many storms that threatened the survival of the company since taking over in 2009. Major events include the global financial crisis, the 2010 recalls and safety crisis, as well as major operational disruptions as a result of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.

Under his stewardship, their Gazoo Racing motorsports brand saw exponential growth and exposure, competing in international events like the Nürburgring 24 Hours race and FIA World Rally Championship. Toyoda himself participated in some of the races under his racing pseudonym Morizo, cementing his reputation as a genuine car fanatic.

He also led the continued development of hydrogen fuel cell technologies, recently showing off an experimental AE86 Trueno that's been converted to run on hydrogen at the recent Tokyo Auto Salon event.

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Toyoda's reluctance towards investing in electrification strategies were not met positively by environmental activists and shareholders, however.

Some have criticised the company for being slow to adapt changing times, with almost every other mainstream manufacturer already dipping their toes in the EV sphere, and Tesla Motors having overshadowed the Japanese giant in terms of share prices.

At the recently concluded TAS event, Toyoda repeated his beliefs that selling EVs is not the only way forward in creating a carbon-neutral society, and that other alternatives such as hydrogen and hybrid technologies should still be made available for the public to choose from.

In another instance, Toyoda said, "Playing to win means playing with all the cards in the deck, not just a select few. So that’s our strategy and we’re sticking to it."

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With Sato set to lead Toyota, fears from both ends may soon be quelled. Under his leadership, the Lexus brand has slowly begun to shift its priorities towards electrification with the Lexus Electrified strategy, and aims to create a full battery EV (BEV) lineup by 2030, and ultimately manufacture 100% electric cars by 2035.

Much like Toyoda, however, Sato is also a car enthusiast and shares a passion for motorsports. His wealth of experience in building fun-to-drive cars is evident in the Gazoo Racing sub-brand which he currently heads, with the iconic GR cars earning praises from the world over.

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His EV strategy still revolves around engaging driving dynamics and pushing the limits, with the Lexus Electrified Sport concept car – which the company claims to be the spiritual successor to the iconic LFA supercar – leading the pack. And the company has also started to experiment with software-based manual transmissions for their EV prototypes, with an electric AE86 Levin prototype shown off at TAS featuring a fully-functional manual gearbox.

Photo Credits: Muhammad Mu'tasim (@mutasimdrives) & Noriaki Mitsuhashi/N-RAK PHOTO AGENCY

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