Koji Sato faces big challenges in critical new era at Toyota

TOKYO – The new CEO of Toyota Motor Corporation, succeeding Akio Toyoda, is an international car guy engineer with an eye for luxury and a hunger for speed.

In fact, in many ways Koji Sato is a mini version of his longtime mentor.

As Head of the Lexus Premium Brand and Gazoo Racing Motorsports Division, Sato’s mission was to break the boring old Toyota mold by developing cars that were ‘cool’, stylish and fun to drive. He succeeds in conveying Toyoda’s encouragement to take risks and stir things up.

Mr. Sato, who was appointed as the next CEO on April 1, said, “President Toyoda always said it’s okay to fail. If you don’t challenge your own limits, you won’t be able to create new things.”

Sato’s new challenge is to apply that mindset across the company.

In an industry besieged by electrification, self-driving and connectivity, he not only navigates largely cloaked legacy metal vendors, but also uses all means to turn the world’s largest automaker into a “mobility company”. We are tasked with transforming

Mr. Toyoda, 66, said Mr. Sato’s “youth” at 53 will help him write the next chapter in Toyota’s history.

“The new team under incoming president Sato will have a mission to transform Toyota into a mobility company,” Toyoda said in announcing the appointment Thursday. “He has young, like-minded colleagues. I expect this new team to push the boundaries that I can’t.”

Mr. Toyoda took the helm in 2009, steering the family-named company through a long period of unprecedented turmoil and rapid growth.

As the first non-family-owned CEO in over a decade, Sato could stay behind the wheel into 2030, predicting rapid and disruptive upheaval across the auto industry. Analysts say whether he conforms and executes or fails, it could have a pivotal impact on Toyota.

Christopher Richter, Lead Asia Automotive Analyst at CLSA in Tokyo, said: “Toyota is off to a great start, but Sato has certainly cut his work short.”

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