Koji Sato, who was appointed the next president at Japan's top automaker Toyota, introduced a management team Monday that he said will lead an aggressive push on electric vehicles. Sato stressed that “electrification” is a key theme for his team and promised to develop a totally new, next-generation electric vehicle by 2026. That will be a Lexus, while Toyota Motor Corp. will also beef up all EV model offerings, Sato said.
“Lexus will lead the move,” he told reporters at a hastily called news conference in Tokyo. “I see myself as the captain of the soccer team.” In a presentation, Sato listed the various executives, each with different responsibilities, such as carbon neutrality, safety technology, as well as overseeing regions like North America and Asia. The selection of Sato, currently Toyota's chief branding officer, as the next chief executive was announced last month. The new leadership takes the helm on April 1.
Toyota, which makes the Prius hybrid and Camry sedan, has billed the move as an effort to stay abreast of social changes like electrification. At times it has been seen as lagging its rivals in EVs. The company's success with hybrids, which have both a battery and a gas engine, and hydrogen fuel cells may be partly behind that perception. Sato reiterated that view, noting that Toyota is intent on reducing emissions with models that are already widespread. Most vehicles on the roads today run on gas, he noted.
Toyota officials have always said they have BEV technology, which stands for “battery electric vehicles,” or pure EVs. But that market has so far been dominated by the likes of Tesla, Japanese rival Nissan and BYD of China.
“We have been working on developing BEVs, but the perception may not have reflected that as well,” he said. Toyota will also make more intelligent cars that are safer and more fun, Sato said, implying they will link to the net and offer other entertainment features. With its management reshuffle, Toyota's chief executive and president, Akio Toyoda, who is grandson of the company's founder, becomes its chairman. Toyoda did not appear at Monday's announcement. Sato has also overseen the Lexus luxury division and Toyota motor racing. The appointments still need shareholders' approval, scheduled for the company's next general meeting.