Akio Toyoda should remain a force at Toyota, even if he steps down

TOKYO, Jan 27 (Reuters) – Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T) chief Akio Toyoda is expected to remain a dominant force at the world’s biggest automaker for years to come and will continue to influence the agenda after his resignation in April, experts and people familiar with the company said.

Toyoda, 66, announced on Thursday that he would step down from running the company his grandfather founded on April 1 to take on the role of chairman. He will hand over to Koji Sato, the 53-year-old boss of Toyota’s luxury brand Lexus.

In recent years, Toyota has become the target of green activists and investors who once heralded its hybrid technology but are now heralding its late adoption of electric vehicles (EVs).

While US electric vehicle maker Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) has drawn attention to its innovation, Toyota and Toyoda itself have often seemed out of touch with the times as they push for battery hybrids -gasoline and, possibly, hydrogen cars.

Market reaction to Toyoda’s announcement was muted – the automaker’s share price was little changed on Friday – as investors bet the company was unlikely to see a big overhaul in the future predictable.

“The new appointment is less about a change of direction and more about carefully considering how best to organize the transfer, avoiding disruption and chaos,” said Julie Boot, an analyst at Pelham Smithers Associates in London.

“He is likely to remain active as chairman for a long time and continue to put his mark on Toyota.”

At 53, Sato will become one of the few “outsiders” – not members of the Toyoda family – to have held the highest position at an automaker whose position and influence within Japanese companies cannot be underestimated. -estimated. Toyota’s supply chain spans some 60,000 suppliers, making it essential for jobs in the world’s third-largest economy.


But it remains to be seen how much influence the relatively young Sato will be able to wield, analysts said, given that many of the executives around him will be older – which still matters a lot in Japan.

He may not be able to make a big change in strategy at first, and the next few years could be a kind of “learning period”, said Koji Endo, principal analyst at SBI Securities.

There is also precedent in Japan for company founders, or their family members, who continue to wield outsized influence in day-to-day management even after becoming chairman.

Last year, the chairman and founder of electric motor maker Nidec Corp (6594.T) returned to his role as chief executive less than a year after leaving, replacing the executive he hired to succeed him .

A Toyota executive, who asked not to be identified, said the automaker was heading into a period of “cloistered rule”, referring to a period in Japanese history when a retired emperor continued to play a key decision-making role.

At a press conference Thursday, broadcast on Toyota’s internal media platform, Toyoda seemed perfectly in control, occasionally turning to offer instructions and reminders to Sato.

Yet outsiders have been able to put their mark on the company. Outgoing Toyoda President Takeshi Uchiyamada is often seen as spearheading the development of the Prius.

“Toyota is a public company that likes to pretend to be a family business,” said John Shook, a former Toyota executive who now consults on lean management techniques pioneered by the automaker.

“Choosing someone who is much younger and has Sato’s background indicates that Akio has recognized that the time for change has come.”

Reporting by Satoshi Sugiyama, Tim Kelly and David Dolan; Additional reporting by Norihiko Shirouzu; Editing by Christopher Cushing

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