The new word around Tokyo is 'hachiroku', pronounced hatchey-rohkoo. This is as close as you can get in Japanese to the number 'eight-six', a word Toyota's charismatic president Akio Toyoda used a lot in an interview yesterday during which he continually referred to the restorative role being played by his company's new GT 86 sports model, new at the Tokyo motor show, to the image and fortunes of the world's biggest car company.

Two years ago, people who didn't love cars were common at the top of Toyota, Akio told us. Now they're much rarer, he said (and top officials standing nearby all nodded as if their careers depended on it). Mr Toyoda even reckoned a car couldn't be a good car unless it had an emotional connection with the driver; unless it was fun to drive.

It was a helluva thing for a Toyota chief to say, when you view the recent past. Can you imagine old Fujio Cho, Akio's venerable predecessor, saying a thing like that? An old-school Japanese grandee-industrialist, Cho would more likely have announced plans to retrain as the next astronaut bound for Mars...

The 'fun to drive' thing has big echoes from the past: Toyota used it for their cars in the 1980s, when the sporting car count in their range was much higher. It will get higher again, Akio told us, carefully avoiding specifics.

One gets the feeling there are still minds that need changing within the Toyota hierarchy. But what Toyoda did do - managing it with a degree of humility not usually achieved by racing drivers - was to show us a film of himself racing a Lexus LFA at the Nürburgring last summer, a very clear indicator that Toyota wants to keep testing its cars on the track and putting its reputation on the line. It can only make the products better.

I'd never been close to Mr Toyoda before, and enjoyed watching him closely. At first he seemed a very serious individual, rather jowly for his age, but as soon as you started thinking that, his face split into an attractive smile and he displayed a nice ability to respond to a joke.

Two things particularly stood out. One was his emotional, almost Churchillian, speech on the stand during the afternoon during which he re-stated Toyota's determination to continue as part of the solution to the problems in tsunami regions, and in Thailand's flooded areas. There would be no withdrawal from the affected areas. He showed passion and determination in an honest cause, far (I thought) from commercial self-interest.

Most telling, though, was the moment one of my colleagues suggested the Toyota 'quality scandal' had turned to be far less his company's fault than people had thought at the time, and that he had been pressed unduly hard over it.

He refused to agree, though he could have done. Instead, he admitted a lack of clarity from himself and the company, acknowledged a lack of perfection, stated an intention to keep making better cars, and said he hoped people would bear with him and his leadership for the future, because he would keep doing his best. It was a most disarming thing to say, and I admired him for it.