Currently reading: Former Toyota Europe boss Johan van Zyl dies
Tributes paid after shock death of long-time Toyota executive, who recently retired as European CEO to return to South Africa

Johan van Zyl, a long-time senior Toyota executive who stood down as the head of the firm's European division earlier this year, has died at the age of 63.

The South African had worked for Toyota since 1993, and was appointed president and CEO of Toyota Motor Europe in 2015. He retired from that role earlier this year and moved back to South African, where he had recently taken on the role of chairman of Toyota South Africa.

Van Zyl died on Friday 30 July due to illness. In a statement, Toyota said the “unfortunate loss has come as a shock to us all”, and highlighted van Zyl’s “humour, calmness and personal empathy”.

During his time at the helm of Toyota’s European arm van Zyl has spearheaded the firm’s major revival in the region, including the return of the Corolla to the market, the expansion of its SUV range and the addition of popular sports cars such as the GR Supra and GR Yaris. Van Zyl was also key to negotiations to secure the long-term future of the firm's Burnaston plant in Derbyshire.

Matt Harrison, who succeeded van Zyl as Toyota Motor Europe’s president and CEO, said: “We have lost an inspirational leader and an amazing human being. For those of us who were fortunate to work closely with Johan, we will always remember him as a great mentor, who had a story to share on any topic and who truly cared about people.

“Our heartfelt thoughts and prayers go to his wife, daughters and his grandchildren.”

After completing a doctorate in business economics van Zyl joined Toyota in 1993, initially as the firm’s South African sales boss. He rose to become Toyota South Africa’s managing director in 1997, before being promoted to president and CEO of the division in 2003. 

Van Zyl was eventually given responsibility for Toyota’s interests across the whole of Africa, before taking over the European division in 2015. He became a senior managing officer of the Toyota Motor Corporation in 2017.


Johan van Zyl on Toyota's European fortunes (from March 2021)

Toyota announces £240m investment in Derbyshire plant

James Attwood

James Attwood, digital editor
Title: Acting magazine editor

James is Autocar's acting magazine editor. Having served in that role since June 2023, he is in charge of the day-to-day running of the world's oldest car magazine, and regularly interviews some of the biggest names in the industry to secure news and features, such as his world exclusive look into production of Volkswagen currywurst. Really.

Before first joining Autocar in 2017, James spent more than a decade in motorsport journalist, working on Autosport,, F1 Racing and Motorsport News, covering everything from club rallying to top-level international events. He also spent 18 months running Move Electric, Haymarket's e-mobility title, where he developed knowledge of the e-bike and e-scooter markets. 

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sabre 1 August 2021

The illness mentioned above is covid-19 - according to another newspaper - that plays havoc in South Africa due to the Delta mutation. The death of Johan Van zyl focuses attention to troubled countries in Africa that are usually out of our minds.