Times may be tough, but Toyota’s charismatic president and chief executive, Akio Toyoda, has had a remarkably successful year. And for this he wins Autocar’s premier end-of-year accolade.
Starting from a level somewhat lower than most observers reckoned his company could sink, Toyoda has brought redemption to the company after a succession of damaging safety scares – then launched an extremely impressive ‘halo’ car, the Toyota GT86.
Taking over from a distinctly old-school Japanese president, Akio Toyoda (who looks younger than his 56 years) has won approval from enthusiasts for his irrepressible love of cars. His establishment of the Gazoo Racing organisation (to encourage car-loving employees to create great Toyotas in future) and love of motorsport (he has raced a Lexus LFA at the Nürburgring) are moves that simply wouldn’t be possible for someone who didn’t love cars. Even those critical of ‘boring’ Toyota can see how directly Toyoda brings hope for the future.
Toyoda has won worldwide respect for his courage and humility in dealing directly with, and continuing to talk about, Toyota’s quality lapses of 2010-2011. Some of the faults have turned out to be far less serious than first thought and many a car boss would be anxious to point out the unfairness of such treatment. Toyoda resists. “I don’t know if we were unfairly treated or not,” he told us during a visit to this year’s Goodwood Festival of Speed, which he loves.
“This year we celebrate Toyota’s 75 years and as part of that I want to identify the past three years as a very good period during which we came to better understand what people want Toyota to be.”
Of course, the job is not done. Toyota has continued to take criticism from the wider press over large but essentially minor recalls. And the company still makes characterless models, some launched since Toyoda took over. All the same, there is powerful evidence to suggest that Autocar’s Man of the Year has sized up the task and intends to get it done.