TOYOTA CITY, Japan—Akio Toyoda, the president and CEO of Toyota Motor and grandson of founder Kiichiro Toyoda, will relinquish his position as head of the largest automobile manufacturer in the world on April 1, the company announced today.
Toyoda, 66, will become the chairman of the board of directors. Akio has been the CEO of Toyota since 2009, which was an important year for Toyota after they finally surpassed General Motors as the world’s largest car manufacturer. Today, General Motors is #6 while Toyota and Volkswagen trade off the #1 and #2 spots on an annual basis.
Koji Sato, 53, who is currently the president of both Lexus and Gazoo Racing, will become the new CEO.
Sato started his career at Toyota in 1992 and quickly rose through the ranks to become chief engineer of Lexus International back when the luxury brand quickly overtook Daimler-Benz, Cadillac, and BMW.
Toyota’s announcement is widely seen as a new strategic approach the Japanese manufacturer will be taking on electric vehicles.
“Because of my strong passion for cars, I am old-fashioned person in regards to digitalization, electric vehicles, and connected cars,” Toyoda stated toThe Financial Times. “I cannot go beyond being a car guy, and that is my limitation.”
Toyoda-san acknowledged his own faults and emphasized the new personnel shift will be able to handle the new direction the company is heading and that he needs “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 owned 25% of Tesla at one point but sold all its shares in 2016 when it became apparent the two companies would become rivals.
The Japanese automobile giant does have several advantages Tesla, GM, and Ford does not. Toyota holds the most solid-state battery patents with 1,331 and they’re co-developing the new generation of batteries with Panasonic, who holds another 445 patents, according to Green Car Reports.
Tesla fully relies on Japan’s Panasonic, China’s BYD, and South Korea’s LG to develop its batteries. General Motors also relies on LG, Stellantis-Chrysler relies on Samsung, and Ford relies on South Korea’s SK Innovation for its battery technology.
Toyota is in a special position because it’s developing its batteries in-house and home-grown with Panasonic. Toyota personnel has shifted to more tech-savvy leadership before they start losing market share, something General Motors and Ford failed to do decades ago.
In 2021, Toyota announced a $35 billion investment in electric vehicles and Sato’s appointment could see more aggressive and concept designs reach production.