Exclusive: Toyota's new President, Koji Sato speaks to us on the future of racing, carbon neutrality, and more
Sanjay · Feb 5, 2023 08:00 AM
As starting points go, the Toyota Motor Corporation that new President and CEO, Koji Sato inherits is perhaps as great as it gets. Nobody can say it's not at its apex today; one that's competitive on track, has sports cars in the showroom, is world No.1 in sales, and with a steady vision for the future to boot.
That's Akio Toyoda's indelible 14-year legacy. From the birds-eye view his new Chairman post affords, he'll see a Toyota he made cool again, rising tall from the multi-million-unit recalls and spate of natural disasters he braved during his early years of company presidency.
Yet the pursuit of perfection is relentless, always calling for consistent, graceful flow from one test to the next. Such is 53-year-old Sato-san's challenge – particularly in navigating Toyota through today's rugged once-in-a-lifetime industrial shift as a full-on mobility company, as well as facing the whole carbon-neutrality (CN) debate in a way that'll keep many people happy.
There's a lot to do, but there's also a lot to look forward to. Here's Koji Sato sharing through an interpreter to WapCar.my on his vision for Toyota's future in motorsports, carbon neutrality, and some light on upcoming products from the brand.
How do you plan to make motorsports more accessible, while aggressively pursuing carbon neutrality?
It is important for us to be able to reduce the cost of racing cars, so that it'll be more accessible for more people to race. We are also balancing this with the sustainability aspects of these cars as well.
Racing is still seen as not very carbon neutral. How does Gazoo Racing aim to convince stakeholders and governments that we should still keep racing alive?
That's exactly why we have begun racing with hydrogen and synthetic fuel cars. We would like to prove that even with these kinds of cars – that are very attuned towards carbon neutrality – they can be competitive and even win a race.
We are also looking into changing the format of races in the future. This might lead to the adoption of new regulations in racing, one that is more concerned about carbon neutrality. That's why we need to prove that carbon neutral cars can win races.
It seems that racing is a great way to accelerate the development of hydrogen power, but what is Toyota's timeline of the mass adoption of hydrogen vehicles in the market?
If we take an example of climbing a mountain, we'd say we have climbed about 50-60% of it already. There's still room for improvement, in terms of performance for production models. From 2023, we will start the development phase for mass production.
We expect that in the near future, we can release these hydrogen-fuelled cars to the market.
Regarding combustion hydrogen (HICEV) vs fuel-cell electric vehicles (FCEV), what's Toyota's vision on them existing side-by-side?
We believe that both have very high potential as the alternative to electric cars. But both possess different characteristics; both have their advantages and disadvantages. So we should put the right car for the right job.
For example, in a large truck that needs to travel long distances, one type of engine would be more suitable. But for city cars that travel short distances, another type of engine is more appropriate. That's how we should see this.
About GR and its impact on the regular Toyota brand, will we see GR cars of every model?
The role of GR is to gather knowledge and data from racing in order to improve the overall performance of production cars. That is the role; to be the leader in terms of technology and share that knowledge to Toyota.
However, no, there won't be a GR version of every model. This is because each model serves a different concept, a different purpose, and the purpose of GR is to make the driving experience more fun.
If a particular model is made for 'fun driving', then yes it may have its GR variant. But for other models that serve different purposes, it won't have a GR variant.
What is your motorsports strategy for ASEAN?
Each country in Asia has different needs, that's why we come up with bespoke strategies for each country.
However in Asia, the common value is to give a fun driving experience to each and every Toyota car we sell, no matter which [powertrain] pathway or type of car that you choose; this is the common value that will not change.
This is the strategy that we'd like to pursue in this ASEAN region.
Will there be an electrified model under GR, and will GR join Formula E?
At the moment we are not considering a battery EV (BEV) GR model. We believe that hydrogen is the most possible alternative, and we would like to make hydrogen our priority at the moment.
As for the multiple pathway [of powertrain options], we would like to offer all the alternatives as much as possible. For BEVs, of course we will support development, but it doesn't necessarily have to be a GR model.
As for Formula E, we don't have plans to participate at the moment.
Like the bombshell that was his parting words in our interview, so was the sudden annoucement of his appointment. But rest assured that there is nothing to fear and all to welcome – a Toyota under his charge will race towards a cleaner environment for us all, while leaving no one behind.
With humble beginnings collecting diecast models and spending hours virtually tuning dream cars on the computer, his love of cars has delightfully transformed into a career. Sanjay enjoys how the same passion for cars transcends boundaries and brings people together.