Koji Sato, Lexus Chief To Take Over Toyota As Founder’s Grandson Steps Down

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Toyota Motor Corp’s CEO will step down as CEO of the firm his grandfather founded, the Japanese automaker announced on Thursday, passing over to the head of its luxury car division as it strives to meet the transition to electric vehicles.

Koji Sato, the automaker’s 53-year-old chief branding officer and president of Toyota’s (7203.T) premium brand Lexus, will take over as CEO on April 1, the firm announced, while Akio Toyoda will become chairman.

Takeshi Uchiyamada, the current chairman, will step down but stay on the board.

The question of who would succeed Toyoda, the 66-year-old grandson of the company’s founder, has become increasingly important to investors. However, the timing of the succession announcement was unexpected.

Toyota has taken a cautious approach to electric vehicles under Toyoda, claiming that the hybrid technology it pioneered with the Prius, as well as investments in hydrogen, will remain crucial.

This approach has sparked criticism from investors and activists who previously lauded the company’s technology and environmental record.

Toyoda stated that Sato’s objective would be to develop Toyota into a “mobility company,” without elaborating on that concept.

Sato stated that Toyoda offered him the CEO position at the end of the year while both were in Thailand for an event commemorating Toyota’s 60th anniversary of business. “Do you want to be the CEO?” Sato stated that Toyoda inquired of him.

“I didn’t know how to respond,” Sato said. “I thought it was a joke.”

The succession announcement was broadcast through the automaker’s Toyota Times channel, and it appeared more like a talk show with a host than an official business announcement.

Sato began his career at Toyota in 1992 and rose through the ranks to become head engineer of Lexus International, Toyota’s luxury motor brand, in 2016, according to his Toyota profile.

Since 2020, he has served as the president of Lexus International and Gazoo Racing Company, Toyota’s motorsport brand. He also joined Toyota as an executive, becoming its chief branding officer in January 2021.

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