Toyota taps Lexus chief as CEO, shifting Akio Toyoda to chairman role

Toyota Motor has promoted Lexus President Koji Sato, 53, as chief executive officer to replace Akio Toyoda, the grandson of the Japanese carmaker’s founder who will become chairman.

Toyoda, 66, became CEO in 2009 and oversaw the company’s rise to become the world’s No. 1 automaker. The firm announced Thursday that Toyoda will step down as president and chief executive to become chairman from April 1. Representative director Takeshi Uchiyamada will drop his chairman title.

Toyoda explained that the main reason why he is passing the torch to the younger generation now is because Uchiyamada has decided to step down from his position.

“We believe that the best way to advance Toyota’s transformation further is for me to support the new president as chairman,” Toyoda told an emergency online news conference.

Uchiyamada, who led the development of Toyota’s signature hybrid vehicle model Prius and also attended the news conference, said he has been seeking the right time to make a transition to the younger generation.

In addition, Toyoda also said since he is “from the old school” and won’t be the best person to lead Toyota, which is aiming to transform itself from a carmaker to a mobility company amid the drastic changes in the auto industry, including electrification, autonomous driving and connected vehicles.

“I myself am a carmaker no matter how far I go. There are changes that I was able to make because I’m a carmaker, but I cannot go beyond being a carmaker. I think that is my limitation,” Toyoda said.

“The mission of the new team is to fully change Toyota into a mobility company.

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I believe the new management team will be able to do what I was unable to do.”

Toyoda said that he has chosen Sato as new CEO because Sato has been eager to absorb Toyota’s philosophy and technology. He also cited his youth as a key reason.

“To promote change in an age where the right answers are unclear, it is necessary for the top management itself to continue to be on the front lines,” Toyoda said.

“For that, physical strength, energy and passion are indispensable. I think being young is a big strength in itself.”

Sato will inherit Toyoda’s strategy of investing in battery-based electric vehicles, hybrid technology, hydrogen-powered cars and legacy combustion vehicles. During Toyoda’s time, the carmaker came under fire from environmental investors and groups for what they said was a reluctance to embrace electric vehicles.

The issue of who will take over for Toyoda, the 66-year-old grandson of the company’s founder, has increasingly been a focus for investors.

At a shareholders meeting in June last year, Toyoda said he was “thinking about timing and the selection of a successor” when asked about succession planning.

Source: The Japan Times