Akio Toyoda covered a lot of ground in 2017.
The president of Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC) introduced the new Camry to the media in Detroit. He connected with movers and shakers in Washington, D.C. He toured Asia and met with world leaders in India, China and Indonesia. He went to France and congratulated newly elected president Emmanuel Macron
But on Tuesday, Toyoda kicked off 2018 in a decidedly different way: On the stage of Dr Pepper Arena in Frisco, Texas, addressing Toyota’s 371,286 employees in over 170 countries -- just a few miles away from Toyota Motor North America’s headquarters in Plano. This is the first time he has given his annual message in North America.
“I regret it’s taken this long to make it happen,” said Toyoda to team members in the packed audience. “Because without all of you, without your support, I wouldn’t be standing here today. And for that, I must thank you, from the bottom of my heart.”
Toyoda was especially grateful for team members who uprooted their families and relocated to TMNA’s new facilities in Texas, Michigan and Kentucky to create One Toyota.
“I know it’s not an easy thing,” he said. “The fact that so many of you decided to make this move for us means more than I can say. The merging of our manufacturing and sales and marketing divisions into one new headquarters in the U.S. was a major accomplishment and I’d like to congratulate everyone involved.”
While acknowledging the accomplishments of the year just completed, Toyoda’s primary focus was on what lies ahead in the year just begun. Here are some of the main themes he touched on in his far-reaching address:
Hero's Welcome -- Toyoda invites Martin Truex Jr. to join him on stage to congratulate him on capturing the 2017 NASCAR Cup driver's title.
- Transitioning to a mobility company — Noting that Toyota’s competitors now include companies like Google, Facebook and Apple, Toyoda said the company will continue to proactively invest in such ventures as the Toyota Research Institute (TRI) and Toyota Connected (TC). For instance, TRI, which just launched its new 3.0 autonomous technology platform, is developing human service robots and formed a venture capital firm to attract and nurture new ideas outside of Toyota. And at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this week, Toyota introduced e-Palette -- its concept for a highly flexbile, connected and autonomous mobility ecosystem.
“You never know where the next great invention for Toyota will come from,” said Toyoda. “That’s why I embrace partnerships with companies such as Microsoft, Panasonic and Mazda.”
- Investing in battery electric vehicles — Speaking of partnerships, Toyoda said the company’s new alliance with Panasonic to develop solid state batteries that are lighter and more cost effective than the current offerings will support Toyota’s aggressive push to make battery electric vehicles. By 2025, every model in the Toyota and Lexus lineup will either be all electric or will have an electrified option.
“I want to reassure you that anybody who underestimates our capability for full EV vehicles does so at their own peril,” said Toyoda.
Meanwhile, look for the second generation of the Mirai hydrogen fuel cell vehicle to make its debut later this year. And the real-world test of a fuel cell-powered commercial truck continues in Los Angeles.
- Leveraging big data — Toyoda talked about the rollout of Toyota Connected’s Mobility Service Platform. It’s currently being tested with car sharing programs in Hawaii and San Francisco. Ultimately, it will support large fleets of autonomous vehicles and other services. And Toyoda noted that Toyota Connected will open an office in Europe this year.
Special Recognition -- Toyoda stands with the President's Award winners from around the world who were honored for fostering Toyota unity, promoting sports/competition, or acting as unsung heroes through community volunteerism.
- Winning on the racetrack — Toyoda welcomed 2017 NASCAR Cup champion Martin Truex Jr. to the stage. In just 10 years of NASCAR competition, Toyota has now won two driver’s titles and two manufacturer’s championships.
“Not bad for a little company from Japan!” said Toyoda.
- Grooming the next generation of leaders — Toyoda called out the promotions at the group vice president level. In particular, he said the appointment of six executive vice presidents with authority to make decisions in Toyota’s six global regions will help make the organization even more responsive to changes and challenges in the marketplace.
“I sort of think of myself and this team as the Seven Samurai,” he said. “Each shares my dislike of red tape and big company disease... I want Toyota to be nimble and make decisions quickly, like a start-up company.”
Toyoda closed his address by challenging team members to “think about the big picture.” He reminded everyone that Toyota got its start making automated looms, not automobiles. So there’s no reason for the current organization to limit itself to being just a car company.
“I’m not suggesting that we throw out all the rules,” said Toyoda. “I’m just telling you it’s OK to challenge the status quo, that it’s OK to shake things up, that it’s OK to take a risk and fail. Because the real risk is never taking one.
“As we look ahead to this new year of 2018, let’s face it with excitement, with confidence and with optimism about our future about what only we can make possible together,” he concluded. “Because together we are
By Dan Miller