Who would be in Akio Toyoda's shoes right now?

Just last week, Akio Toyoda took to the stage in Tokyo not just as the new chief of Japan's mighty Toyota Motor Corporation, but as a man with a mission.

Toyota, not so long ago was locked on this seemingly unstoppable path to the stars, one that ultimately saw it overtake GM to go world number one.

But now it's all gone south, Toyota's in the red and it's Akio's job now to get it all back on track.

His idea: to break with the formula that saw Toyota simply pile on more sales, more profits year after year and switch to the more measured 'customer first' policies of the past. To divide the world into regions and produce cars that are exciting, that people 'really want to buy.'

Fair enough, you'd say. As far as Europe's concerned, this means a 'distinctive business model for Toyota in the region so we're not lost in the crowd.' At the heart of this will be hybrids, and more of them.

Akio, a personable, 53-year old car loving exec, still faces a welter of problems, though, not least the fact that Toyota has a ten million unit global capacity but plans this year to do 'only' 6.5.

Juggling that equation while preserving jobs, cutting costs and getting Toyota back to profit (probably not before 2011) won't be easy. And GM's announcement yesterday that it's pulling out of the NUMMI plant in the States that Toyota and GM have co-shared since 1984, will only add to the headache.

Then there's the personal side of it. Being Toyota chief is a tough call at the best of times but when you're Akio Toyota, the grandson of the founder of the company, and your father is Shoichiro Toyoda, president between 1982-92 and one of Japan's top industrialists, the pressure, shall we say, does not go away  You're constantly in the spotlight and have been nearly all your life...

Still, Akio's deal with Aston Martin to collaborate over the iQ-based Cygnet shows how he's already thinking outside the box. For what it's worth, I think that's a masterstroke for Toyota but a huge question mark for Aston.

Character building could be one way to describe the next couple of years for Akio Toyoda, perhaps Japan's most famous car guy since Soichiro Honda, as the hard graft of reviving the colossus that is Toyota gets under way. Let's wish him well.

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