TOKYO – Toyota has picked Koji Sato, the head of Lexus and the Gazoo Racing unit, to be the automaker’s next president and CEO, as Akio Toyoda, grandson of the company’s founder, steps up to be the company’s new chairman.
The changes take effect April 1.
As part of the shuffle, current Chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada, known as the father of the Prius for his work in developing the popular hybrid vehicle, will step aside as chairman but retain a seat on the board.
The reorganization answers a long-standing question about succession for Toyoda, who took office in 2009 and presided over a tumultuous period of challenges and expansion, including the 2009 financial crisis, a global recall scandal and the 2011 Japan earthquake.
Under Toyoda’s watch, the company overcame these challenges to achieve record sales and earnings and solidify its title as the world’s largest automaker.
“I believe that over the past 13 years, I have built a solid foundation for passing the baton,” Toyoda said at an online briefing shortly on Thursday. The new management team, Toyoda said, “has a mission to transform Toyota into a mobility company.”
Toyoda, 66, has worked closely with Sato, 53, in the latter’s roles as head of the Lexus premium brand as leader of Gazoo Racing, a pet favorite of the outgoing president.
Toyoda said Sato was tapped, partly because “he loves cars” and because of “his youth.”
Toyoda said someone younger needs to complete Toyota’s transition into a new era.
“I’m a carmaker through and through, and that’s how I’ve transformed Toyota,” Toyoda said. “But a carmaker is all that I am. That is my limit. The new team under President Sato has the mission to transform Toyota into a mobility company.”
Among Sato’s challenges is navigating an industry under siege by electrification, autonomous driving and connectivity.
Sato takes the helm at a time when Toyota is being criticized for falling behind in the global electric vehicle race. He is committed to breaking the old Toyota mold by developing fun-to-drive cars that are stylish and cool.