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Toyota CEO steps down, opening up possibility of new EV strategy

Tesla’s Elon Musk and Toyota’s Akio Toyoda shaking hands in Palo Alto, CA cir. 2010. [Credit: Associated Press]

Long-time Toyota CEO and grandson to the company’s founder, Akio Toyoda, has announced that he will leave his position later this year. Lexus head Koji Sato will replace him.

Mr. Toyoda is known not only for his relation to the founder of the largest automotive company in the world, but also for taking the helm of CEO at Toyota after the market collapse of 2008 and guiding the company to where it is today. In 2012, Akio Toyoda was even named the Man of the Year by AutoCar, following the Japanese brand’s rise to dominance in the early 20-teens. Now, as Mr. Toyoda departs, the company may again have the opportunity to turn a new leaf and head in a new direction.

The announcement is surrounded by significant fanfare but very few details. Many executives celebrated Mr. Toyoda’s dedication to his work and wished him the best as he plans to depart in April, but the brand’s future remains cloudy following the planning of the now-departing CEO.

Akio Toyoda’s goals within the auto industry were clear. First, due to his passion for driving and motorsports, he pushed the conservative Japanese brand to reignite its performance offerings. Second, Mr. Toyoda was known for his slower approach to electrification, instead opting to sell alternative vehicles before rolling out more serious EV offerings.

Toyota plans $13.6B spending spree to develop EV battery tech by 2030

Toyota’s new CEO, Koji Sato, who previously headed the Lexus brand, will be taking the reins, and he has already hinted at a change in direction. Mr. Sato, while clearly interested in hydrogen engine and fuel cell technology, has also guided Lexus through the development of its first EV, based on Toyota’s recently relaunched BZ4X.

Another indication of Mr. Sato’s potentially different strategy moving forward is his age. At 53, Mr. Sato is a spring chick compared to his fellow executives, hinting that he may be here to stay. However, the same was said of Mr. Toyoda, who is now departing at only 66.

The road ahead of Toyota is a difficult one. The change in the landscape of the auto industry evokes the idea that “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” However, as more and more consumers move to electric offerings, the clock is certainly ticking for Toyota’s upcoming CEO. Nonetheless, the potential change in strategy and leadership could be good for the company, perhaps resulting in a faster EV transition than many would expect.

“I believe that over the past 13 years, I have built a solid foundation for passing the baton forward,” Toyoda said.

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Toyota CEO steps down, opening up possibility of new EV strategy
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