Eyeing Tesla, new Toyota CEO proposes changes to embrace electric future


As Koji Sato prepares to take over as CEO, Toyota Motor Corp unveiled several changes to its senior management, seeking to improve the automaker’s strategy and messaging as it transitions to an electric future and competes with Tesla Inc.

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February 14, 2023 at 10:00 am

The Toyota bZ4X concept, the Japanese automaker's first electric vehicle, is also on display at the 2023 Auto Expo.
The Toyota bZ4X concept, the Japanese automaker’s first electric vehicle, is also on display at the 2023 Auto Expo.

Hiroki Nakajima will serve as chief technology officer and Yoichi Miyazaki will serve as chief financial officer from April 1, with Sato succeeding Akio Toyoda, the Japanese automaker said in a statement on Monday. Both executives will join the board, along with newly appointed chief brand officer Simon Humphries.

The world’s No. 1 automaker will spend 4 trillion yen ($31 billion) to launch 30 electric vehicles by 2030. However, its strategy of offering car buyers a variety of options – gasoline-engined, hybrid, battery-electric and hydrogen-powered vehicles – has drawn criticism that it is not changing fast enough. At a news conference announcing the new management lineup, Sato spoke several times about the importance of better communicating Toyota’s strategy.

“The perception that Toyota’s electrification efforts are lagging — I think half of it comes down to communication,” Sato said. Regarding the company’s new electric vehicle platform, which is due to launch in 2026, he said more details would be announced in April.

Until now, Akio Toyoda has been the automaker’s chief communicator when it comes to explaining Toyota’s shift to an electrified and carbon-neutral future. The grandson of the founder, who will become chairman after 14 years at the helm, did not attend the briefing – a sign he is handing over power to a successor.

Although Sato joined Toyota in 1992 as a mechanical engineer, he also brings marketing credentials. Before being named to lead Toyota, he served as chief brand officer and head of Lexus’ luxury vehicle division.

No women were on the list of people promoted or assigned to Toyota’s new executive positions.

In addition to the management changes, Woven Planet Holdings Inc. will also be renamed Woven by Toyota Inc. The unit, which works on self-driving software and smart cities, aims to shape Toyota’s future technologies.

“Succession and evolution” are themes for the new leadership, Sato said, repeating his predecessor’s argument that while battery electric vehicles are important, the company needs to offer a wide range of options.

The new CEO likens his executive roster to a football team, each with a unique role but must rely on each other to pursue a common goal—to satisfy customers with products and services that reduce and reduce costs. Ultimately eliminating the sprawling automaker’s carbon footprint.

“As captain, my duty is to maximize the potential of the team,” he said.

In late January, the Toyota Times News, the company’s internal publicity agency, suddenly announced the appointment of Sato as CEO. This drew criticism because it was more of a TV segment than a normal press conference.

“I have since received numerous comments on how the announcement should be made,” Sato said on Monday.

First published date: February 14, 2023 at 10:00 AM CST


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