Recently, the CEO of Toyota, and grandson of the founder of the car company Akio Toyoda announced that he is stepping down as head of the auto giant. He believes he is too old to understand the consumer sentiments of this generation.
Many were shocked because in the last 14 years, he took the company from a highly conservative, cautious but quality conscious company, to a bold, ambitious, trendy and adventurous one. Reinventing the brand to appeal to younger consumers.
When he took over as CEO, he had a tough time convincing Toyota engineers that he can run the company because first, he has a law and business background; second, he was not a top race driver.
He was told by members of the board that Toyota engineers would not respect him and would not take his ideas serious unless he trains as a top race driver, which will provide him with background knowledge of how a car engine works.
He obeyed, and started training as a race driver, after months of highly intensive training, he qualified and started taking part in race events.. He participated as a driver at events including the 2009 24 Hours Nürburgring race employing the pseudonym Morizo Kinoshita.
He reached the 87th position overall and the fourth position in his class with his LF-A Prototype No. 14. It was the success of the prototype LF-A which helped in the promotion of sports models including the Lexus IS F and Lexus LFA at auto races.
In 2016, Toyoda approved the project that would result in the GR Yaris; during the development of that car, Toyoda (as Morizo) served as a test driver.
Morizo crashed the first test car during a mid-winter test drive at a Hokkaido track; after exiting the car on his own, he remarked that he did not “like the feel of it”. Engineers went back to the drawing board.
His love for racing resurrected the Toyota Supra (GR Supra) which today confidently compares with the Nissan Z and brings back the childhood dream car of many Gen Xers.
Toyoda said that at 66, he is too old to run a company that expected to meet the needs of younger generation as his views, and tastes might be outdated thus the need for the company to have a new management team of younger leaders to navigate the challenges ahead.
Inspite of taking Toyota to leadership position in many areas, the company has faced criticism that it has been too slow to adapt to the rapid rise of EV challengers like Tesla and China’s BYD.
As his replacement, Toyoda presented one of the most loyal insiders in Koji Sato, former president of Lexus, and one of Lexus top engineers/innovators. Koji is presently Toyota’s Chief Branding Officer.
According to the retiring CEO, “Sato is a man who has worked hard to master Toyota’s philosophy, techniques and manners in the field of car manufacturing, he is young, and he loves cars.”
“In order to promote change in an age when the right answers are not known, it is necessary for the top management to continue to be on the frontlines themselves. To do so, physical strength, energy and passion are essential. I think being young is a big attraction in itself.”
A Different Car Company
A major uniqueness of the Toyota philosophy that stood it out from others is also why it builds far more reliable and durable cars; Toyota is run by engineers, while other car companies are run by salesmen and accountants.
To head Toyota, you either have engineering background, or you first get accepted by the engineers because Toyota engineers are renowned for sticking to their ideas.
And two major areas have exemplified this over the last four decades. First are quality materials: Toyota engineers insist on high-quality materials in the manufacturing of their engines, including robust cast iron blocks, durable aluminum alloys, and high-grade steel components.
The second is precision engineering: Toyota has a reputation for precision engineering, which means that each engine is designed and manufactured with extreme care and attention to detail. This helps ensure that every component works together seamlessly to maximize performance, and may work in extreme conditions without replacement for upwards of two decades.
Yo shinai, Yo kangai-Good thinking, Good Product!