Akio Toyoda, Toyota’s president and chief executive in the past nine years and distinguished winner of Autocar’s Issigonis Trophy for 2018, reckons he probably wouldn’t still be doing his job if it hadn’t been for the catastrophic ‘unintended acceleration’ crisis he faced in the US market within weeks of taking the helm back in 2009.
Toyoda-san, grandson of the Toyota group’s famous founder, Kiichiro Toyoda, believes the way he survived the crisis, which involved being repeatedly pilloried in the world’s press and hauled into US congressional hearings to explain to poorly briefed politicians why Toyota cars were ‘unsafe’, gave the company’s power brokers confidence that the new young leader was made of the right stuff.
He has since proved it repeatedly. Toyoda has become globally famous for an inspirational brand of leadership and a rare love of cars that has won him disciples throughout the company. This has led the Toyota, Lexus and Daihatsu brands to overhaul their reputations for building ‘Ministry of Cars’ machinery and encouraged them to launch a string of much more desirable models — beginning with the seminal Toyota GT86 sports car of 2012. More ‘emotional’ cars are coming from the brands.
Toyoda has won great respect, at least in the court of the fair-minded, for bearing no malice a couple of years after his appointment when the vaunted Toyota ‘scandal’ turned out, after a proper technical investigation, to be far less the company’s fault than overheated initial reports suggested.