New Toyota chief outlines leadership team bullish on electric vehicles

The next chief executive of Japanese car giant Toyota has introduced a management team that he said will lead an aggressive push on electric vehicles (EVs).

Koji Sato stressed that “electrification” is a key theme for his team and promised to develop a totally new, next-generation electric vehicle by 2026.

That will be a Lexus, while the company will also beef up all its EV model offerings, he said.

“Lexus will lead the move,” he told reporters at a news conference in Tokyo. “I see myself as the captain of the soccer team.”

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New Toyota chief executive Koji Sato, centre, with his management teams – (L to R) Kazuaki Shingo,Yoichi Miyazaki, Hiroki Nakajima and Simon Humphries (Eugene Hoshiko/AP)

In a presentation, Mr Sato listed the various executives, each with different responsibilities, such as carbon neutrality, and safety technology, as well as overseeing regions like North America and Asia.

Hiroki Nakajima, who currently oversees mid-size vehicles, was named executive vice president overseeing technology, and Yoichi Miyazaki, who has been overseeing business operations, was named chief financial officer.

The selection of Mr Sato, currently Toyota’s chief branding officer, as the next chief executive was announced last month. The new leadership takes the helm on April 1.

Toyota, which makes the Prius hybrid and Camry sedan, has billed the move as an effort to stay abreast of social changes like electrification. At times it has been seen as lagging its rivals in EVs.

The company’s success with hybrids, which have both a battery and a petrol engine, and hydrogen fuel cells may be partly behind that perception.

Mr Sato reiterated that view, noting that Toyota is intent on reducing emissions with models that are already widespread. Most vehicles on the roads today run on petrol, he noted.

Toyota officials have always said they have BEV technology, which stands for “battery electric vehicles”, or pure EVs. But that market has so far been dominated by the likes of Tesla, Japanese rival Nissan and BYD of China.

“We have been working on developing BEVs, but the perception may not have reflected that as well,” Mr Sato said.

The electric vehicles Toyota offers cannot be just more EVs to keep up with the times, but “must answer the question of what kind of EV Toyota can offer”, he said.

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Koji Sato said Toyota’s entire production system must be revamped to make quality electric vehicles (Eugene Hoshiko/AP)

Mr Sato and the other executives said the company’s entire production system must be revamped to make quality EVs.

Toyota is also grappling with the high cost of the batteries, although lowering costs is not a goal in itself. The company prides itself on its “just in time” production system.

It will also make more intelligent cars that are safer and more fun, Mr Sato said, implying they will link to the internet and offer other entertainment features.

With its management reshuffle, Toyota’s chief executive and president Akio Toyoda, who is the grandson of the company’s founder, becomes its chairman. He did not appear at Monday’s announcement.

Mr Sato has also overseen the Lexus luxury division and Toyota motor racing.

The appointments still need shareholders’ approval, scheduled for the company’s next general meeting.