OPINION | The most hands-on CEO ever: Toyota's Akio Toyoda steps down, 'Driver Morizo' steps up

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Love it or hate it, the Toyota FJ Cruiser represented the Japanese firm actually attempting to style a car. For more than a decade, the company had churned out soulless, three-box sedans and cookie-cutter hatchbacks, and it's with this 2006 off-roader it seemed the marque found its mojo once again.  

This was just one year after Akio Toyoda was made vice president of the firm. A coincidence? Unlikely.  

Three years later, he'd ascend to the most prestigious seat in the house as president and CEO of Toyota. What followed next was the second coming of the Toyota 86, a new Supra, and so much more aspirational metal.  

Akio Toyoda
Akio Toyoda

So what? Well, he also happens to be the great-grandson of industrialist Sakichi Toyoda. And, therefore, grandson of the founder of Toyota Motors, Kiichiro Toyoda.

This means Toyota, at its recent greatest, has been a family business, which makes us sad to hear that he is about to leave the position. He is, after all, a bona fide petrolhead, having competed and followed many forms of motorsport avidly during his career, which you simply have to appreciate as a South African.

And then, there's his stint as an official test driver for the GR Yaris. You couldn't ask for a more hands-on CEO. After his departure, it is unlikely we will see one this involved again.

When 1 April rolls around, Akio will step down at 66 years old and be replaced by Koji Sato, previously the marque's chief branding officer. Toyoda moves into the position of chairperson of the board, where we hope we will see his influence come through in the tyres of vehicles that Toyota churns out.

Akio Toyoda
Akio Toyoda

In a world increasingly sacrificing high-revving thrills for electrification, it was comforting to know that the man at the helm of one of the largest car manufacturers was quoted as saying about electric vehicles: "Of course, I supported BEVs in terms of business, but the question was whether I was supporting them as 'Driver Morizo' (a pseudonym he raced under at Nürburgring 24 Hours)."


He further elaborated: "I think we are now at a point where we can develop safer and faster vehicles with more fun-to-drive aspects."  

While Akio moves out of the driver's seat into the boardroom, we'd love to imagine it gives 'Driver Morizo' more time behind the wheel as Toyota continues to deliver cars for people who love to drive them.

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