Toyota's new president vows to step on electrification pedal

Toyota’s new president Koji Sato has promised what he called an aggressive shift on “electrification,” while acknowledging criticism that Japan’s top automaker has fallen behind

Yuri Kageyama
Friday 21 April 2023 11:25 BST
Japan Toyota
Japan Toyota (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

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Toyota’s new president Koji Sato has promised what he called an aggressive shift on “electrification,” while acknowledging criticism that Japan’s top automaker has fallen behind in actual volumes of electric vehicles sold compared to its rivals.

“We like to see that as people cheering Toyota on,” to play catchup in electric cars, Sato told reporters Friday at Toyota Motor Corp.’s Tokyo headquarters.

“If we look at in practical terms of the situation today, we have done a great deal in reducing carbon emissions,” he said, defending the automaker's record on other gas-sipping technologies.

Toyota is a leader in hybrids, which have both a gasoline engine and electric motor, and Sato stressed that different markets have varying powertrain needs, with emerging markets being slower to adopt pure electric vehicles.

But he said pure electric vehicles allow for more software functions because of their connectivity and other features, stressing that Toyota’s electric vehicles would highlight “intelligence,” such as services and entertainment.

Sato, who has managed the Lexus luxury division, declined to outline specifics of such features. But he stressed that future EV models would be truly “Toyota-like,” pointing to a high standard for quality and not just affordable pricing.

The company’s entire production system must be revamped to make quality EVs befitting the Toyota or Lexus nameplates, he said. Toyota prides itself on its “just in time” production system, which runs like clockwork and is praised by manufacturing experts around the world.

Toyota now offers the bZ4X electric compact crossover, packed with what’s called the e-TNGA platform. That stands for “Toyota New Global Architecture,” also used in its Prius and Lexus models.. The electric platform was developed in collaboration with Subaru, a Toyota group company.

The bZ4X is available in Japan, the U.S., and parts of Europe, such as Germany and Britain, as well as China and Thailand.

Toyota also recently announced a new electric car to be sold in China, called bZ3. It will use technology developed with Chinese EV manufacturer BYD Co. in a collaboration that also includes state-owned Tianjin FAW and other partners.

Toyota and BYD set up a joint venture company three years ago to jointly research and develop battery electric vehicles.

At the Shanghai auto show this week, Toyota showed a couple of “bZ series” EVs in the works for the Chinese market, a sleek crossover and a model called Flex Space Concept, billed as offering a home-like environment in a car for families.

But overall, the world’s EV sector has so far been dominated by the likes of Tesla, Japanese rival Nissan Motor Co., which makes the Leaf, and BYD. So Toyota has some catching up to do.

Sato recently replaced Akio Toyoda, a grandson of the company’s founder who had served as chief executive since 2009, presiding over some difficult years. They included the global financial crisis, as well as a massive recall scandal in the U.S., over “unintended acceleration,” in 2010.

Sato kept referring to Toyoda as “Chairman Akio,” his new title. Although they both love cars, he said his approach was different as a president with an engineering background. Toyoda has a business background, although he is also a race car driver.

Toyota's new management lineup still needs its shareholders’ approval at the general meeting, held every year in June. Sato’s term officially began April 1.

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Yuri Kageyama is on Twitter https://twitter.com/yurikageyama

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