End of Akio era: management changes at the top of Toyota | CAR Magazine

End of Akio era: management changes at the top of Toyota

Published: 27 January 2023 Updated: 27 January 2023

► Akio Toyoda to step down as president
► Stays on as chairman of the board
► Replaced by Koji Sato of Lexus and Gazoo Racing

There are changes afoot at Toyota, as Akio Toyoda moves from president to chairman of the board on 1 April 2023, when Koji Sato will assume the presidency.

Sato is the current chief branding officer, as well as president of Lexus and Gazoo Racing. So while some may raise concerns that Toyoda’s move away from day-to-day operations will diminish Toyota’s current form as a builder of interesting and often even exciting cars, Sato has in part been chosen as his successor because he too is an enthusiast.

Sato will also take over the role of chief executive officer from Toyoda. The current chairman of the board, Takeshi Uchiyamada, will remain a member of the board of directors.

Akio Toyoda’s legacy

Akio Toyoda, 66, is the grandson of Kiichiro Toyoda, the man who founded the Toyota Motor Corporation.

He became president of the family firm in June 2009, and we can look to him as one of main driving forces behind the brand’s desire and will to produce and sell more exciting cars.

Not only have we seen the introduction of outstanding Toyota halo cars under his watch – from the GT86 to the GR Yaris and GR Corolla – there’s also been a dramatic transformation in the appeal of more humdrum models.

Akio Toyoda

Ordinary Toyotas are now better to look at and better to drive, while retaining a legendary level of reliability. This despite – or perhaps because of – Toyoda’s appearance before the United States Congress in 2010, where he was asked to testify on the high number of global recalls then affecting the company.

Toyoda is also well known to be an enthusiastic racing driver, competing under the pseudonym Morizo Kinoshita (and even crashing the first GR Yaris prototype, leading to his close participation in the vehicle’s following development).

An electric vehicle doubter?

Although there are lots of reasons for us to celebrate Toyoda’s time at the top, many will point out how slow Toyota has been to embrace the move towards electric mobility. While a clear pioneer of hybrid technology, it has been much slower than many rivals when it comes to developing fully electric cars.

Akio Toyoda and Toyota's future battery electric vehicles

Toyoda himself has admitted his lack of eagerness here. Although a major press event in December 2021 saw him unveiling a whole series of electric Toyota concept cars destined for future production, as recently as December 2022 he claimed to be among the ‘silent majority’ in the car industry that doubts battery electric vehicles (BEVs) are the only solution for the future.

Speaking to journalists in Thailand, Toyoda again made clear that his position is that a range of powertrain options will continue to remain necessary for many years to come – including those incorporating internal combustion engines such as the hybrids Toyota has pioneered, as well as alternative energy sources such as hydrogen fuel cells.

During the announcement of the management changes, he further explained: ‘Because of my strong passion for cars, I am an old-fashioned person in regards to digitalisation, electric vehicles, and connected cars. I cannot go beyond being a car guy, and that is my limitation.’

Speaking about his decision to step aside from the presidency, he added ‘The new team can do what I can’t do. I need to take a step back in order to let young people enter the new chapter of what the future of mobility should be like.’

Toyota’s future under Koji Sato

It was during the same trip to Thailand that Toyoda asked Sato if he would take over as CEO.

Toyoda has also stated that Sato’s task is to turn Toyota into a ‘mobility company’ – although as yet there is little clarity about what such a strategy would entail.

More importantly for people like us, we have a clear insight that Sato is just as much of a car guy as Toyoda, if not even more so.

Speaking to CAR’s Jake Groves early in December 2022 about the Lexus Electrified Sport concept going into production, chief engineer for Lexus Electrified, Takashi Watanabe, gave us this intel into Sato’s character.

‘Koji Sato [then president of Lexus and Gazoo Racing], loves cars. Within the realm of Lexus, he wants to share his passion, too. He’s the real leader of Lexus Electrified, so he determines what kind of development of certain technologies are necessary.

‘Plus, as long as Sato is still president, it means I can do whatever I want!’

Sounds like Toyota will be in safe hands to us.

You can watch the full Toyota management change announcement below:

By CJ Hubbard

Head of the Bauer Digital Automotive Hub and former Associate Editor of CAR. Road tester, organiser, reporter and professional enthusiast, putting the driver first