Lexus boss to take over Toyota as founder’s grandson steps down

By Ibidunni Banjoko

In a bid to have a fresh start, Koji Sato, Lexus chief, will be taking over Toyota as founder’s grandson Akio Toyoda steps down, as the Japanese giant struggles to meet the shift to electric vehicles.

The chief branding officer and president of Toyota Motor Corp’s (7203.T) Lexus brand, Koji Sato, will take over from April 1 when Akio Toyoda becomes chairman.

The issue of who would take over the top spot at Toyota – Japan’s biggest company and one of the world’s most influential manufacturers – has been an increasing focus for investors. But the timing of the announcement was a surprise.

Under the 66-year-old Toyoda, who led the company for more than a decade, the automaker has appeared reluctant to embrace electric vehicles, arguing the hybrid technology it pioneered with its once market-leading Prius was a better fit for many drivers.

It also touted hydrogen-powered cars as the future, raising fears it would be left behind by the rise of electric vehicles, as the flashier and more nimble Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) eclipsed it in both innovation and share price.

That insistence on hybrids and hydrogen also prompted criticism from investors and environmental activists who once widely praised Toyota’s technology and emissions record.

Anders Schelde, chief investment officer of Danish pension fund Akademiker Pension, which has repeatedly pressed Toyota to accelerate its shift to electric vehicles said: “No doubt Mr. Toyoda has been a competent CEO, but the whole auto sector needs to make a disruptive change and Toyota has been lagging in this in our view, so this could be chance for a fresh start.”


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