TOKYO: Toyota Motor Corp said on Thursday that Akio Toyoda will step down as president and chief executive to become chairman from April 1, and hand over the helm of Japan’s biggest automaker to the company’s top branding officer.
Koji Sato, a 53-year-old who is also president of Toyota’s luxury brand Lexus, will become the new CEO, the company said. The current chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada will drop his chairman title but remain on the board.
The issue of who would take over from Toyoda, the 66-year-old grandson of the company’s founder, had increasingly been a focus for investors.
During his more than a decade at the top, Toyoda presided over the carmaker during a period of intense change in the auto industry and rising uncertainty about how legacy automakers such as Toyota can fend off the challenge from newer – and often nimbler – challengers such as Tesla.
During his time, Toyota also came under fire from environmental investors and groups for what they said was a reluctance to embrace electric vehicles.
Toyoda, speaking at a news conference, said his term at the helm of Toyota started in 2009 with “crisis after crisis” from the effects of a global recession, to Toyota’s own recall and safety crisis to the disruption that followed the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in northern Japan.
At a shareholder meeting in June last year, Toyoda said he was “thinking about timing and the selection of a successor” when asked about succession planning.
On Thursday, he said Sato was chosen because he “worked hard to learn Toyota’s philosophy”.
“The CEO needs youth, energy, strength.”
Sato started his career at Toyota in 1992, before rising through the ranks to become chief engineer of Lexus International, a luxury auto brand of Toyota, in 2016, according to his profile on the Toyota website.
He has held positions as the president of Lexus International and Gazoo Racing Company, Toyota’s motorsport brand, since 2020. He also took on an executive role at Toyota and became its chief branding officer in January 2021.