By on March 6, 2013

When Toyota gets on the horn by lunchtime to tell Tokyo’s media to show up at 4:30 the same day, everybody knows it will be a big surprise and an even bigger deal. Today, Japan’s Fourth Estate already knew what’s coming when the phone rang. It still was a big deal: Toyota completely reshuffled its top executives. It even brought a non-Japanese on board, a former GM man to boot.

Earlier in the week, sources told Reuters that there will be changes at the top of Toyota. So nobody was really surprised when a day later, the changes happened.  The biggest change was a further shortening of the long decision making where even the smallest project needs a series of “hanko,” or seals by the boss, his boss, and that boss’s boss.  Said Akio Toyoda today at the Megaweb in Tokyo:

“It is healthy for decisions to be made by those close to the products and the ground, and there is a limit to what I can do.”

“As vehicle sales start growing again, my aim is to build a group in which everyone is aware that they are in charge.”

As expected, Toyota made Takeshi Uchiyamada, the father of the Prius and the engine behind Toyota’s hybrid drive, chairman of the board.  By doing so, Toyota once again put someone in charge who knows his cars. Uchiyamada has shown that he doesn’t just know cars, he knows how to engineer cars for the future.

For the first time, Toyota brings outside directors to its board, one of them surprisingly Mark T. Hogan. Hogan was president of Magna before taking over as President of the Vehicle Production Group, a high level car consultancy. Those tidbits are ignored by Toyota’s press release which mentions instead that Hogan is a “former General Motors Corporation group vice president.”

Hogan was at GM for 31 years. Interestingly, his GM career began in 1973 with the Electro-Motive Division in Chicago. Hogan met Toyota as General Manager of NUMMI. After that, one of Hogan’s many jobs was Managing Director of GM do Brazil, where he became known for making simple, low cost vehicles though fully integrated organizations and lean manufacturing. Before he left GM, he was Group Vice President of Advance Vehicle Development. Even Toyota’s outside directors know their way around cars.

More Americans will be affected by the revirement: Toyota’s U.S. Jim Lentz advances from Managing Officer to Senior Managing Officer. Lexus chief Mark Templin advances from General Manager to Managing Officer.

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20 Comments on “Toyota Shakes Up Its Leadership...”

  • avatar

    These strike me as interesting choices and probably good ones.

    Toyota has been working the emerging markets for a long time and clearly sees strong low cost vehicle offerings as strategic, so they picked somebody who understands the value and the delivery of it.

    The choice for Chairman suggests they want somebody at the top who can recognize a strategically sound idea for the future.

    But what the hell do I know?

  • avatar
    Da Coyote

    Gaaaaa, just when I was considering a new RAV-4, you have to tell me that Toyota will be polluted, besmirtched, and generally abused by someone who actually worked for Gubmit Motors?

  • avatar

    Strategery, yo.

  • avatar

    Oh, Mr Hogan. IIRC the man who single-handedly made possible one of the worst cars in Brazilian history. They took an Opel Corsa (2nd European gen, 1st in Brazil), stripped it of any good parts, made the finishing worst than Fischer-Price, skimped on such things as length of seatbelts (there was at the time a website called fatties don’t buy a Chevy Celta) and adjustable headrests, called it the Celta. Of course, the car made a ton of money for GM. It reached as high as #3, and is now settling somewhere at #6 or 7.

    Yes he knows how to make cars for the third world I guess. I don’t believe he can make the interior of the Toyota Etios any worse, or can he?

    • 0 avatar

      Don’t hate the player, hate the game.

      (The game being GM.)

    • 0 avatar

      There’s plenty of room to cheapen interiors, you even mentioned the standard: Fisher-Price. Just think how lean production can be with molded plastic seats like a bus! If you want springs or foam, you have to pay more, something you can’t get on a bus. Hudson once sold a car where the trunk lid was optional, so there’s even more room for savings beyond the interior.

      • 0 avatar

        Don’t give them any ideas. I have seen OEMs trying out seats with non-reclining backs in clinics. The strong reactions to such ideas has kept makers from doing it, but it doesn’t mean they’ll stop trying.

      • 0 avatar
        Athos Nobile

        Fisher-Price toys are far better finished than any Brazilian car interior.

        I know, because my son has a lot of toys from the brand. They also withstand a fair amount of beating without breaking down.

        • 0 avatar

          Ayayayayayay! Hyperbole much mi amigo? My son also has those toys and the plastics on my car are better! :)!

          How about your mother’s Sinea? Seemed like that lasted a long time, verdad?

          I get where you’re coming from Athos, but Celta, EcoSport (old), Gol G4 or Fox were the low points. The newer launches have all improved a lot. Nothing fancy, but the interiors are being better designed and finished. Have you been inside the new Chevies? A new Uno? New Gol? And those are the bottom dwellers, when you move up, things improve (a little). Sincerely, even the Celta was improved though honestly, it’s now the worst finished car in Brazil.

          • 0 avatar
            Athos Nobile

            My mom’s Siena is still alive… and falling apart. It’s near 360K kms on its original engine (Fiat engines are tough to kill). But the dash had a lot of un-trimmed molding flashings, and the fit and finish wasn’t exactly precise.

            Last cars I sat while in Vzla were a SpaceFox and a ’10 Siena. The VW left me impressed, still cheap looking, but not nasty. The Siena, a lot improved from ’97, but still behind the VW.

            The Gol G4 is nasty. Especially when you see the two previous ones which were somehow nicer. One of my engineers had one and thankfully she replaced it with a 206 after a year.

            I saw Celtas when I traveled to Argentina in ’04, and didn’t looked inside, so I can’t give an opinion.

            I wish I could take you a couple of times to a local auction lot. It is not a fancy place, it is sometimes smelly, but will change your perspective in things automotive. However, I am not buying you anti-depressive pills after you go back to Brazil.

          • 0 avatar

            From the outside looking in, I always thought the Gol would be more refined than the 206. I see both darting around the DF all the time… I just haven’t been inside of either.

            My mexican girl friend had a Ibiza coupe – now that was a nice little car. Her dad traded it in for a Fiesta. What a way to highlight how lagging even Ford of Europe’s offering really is!

          • 0 avatar
            Athos Nobile

            3m, I’ve sat on both. The Gol G4 and the 206.

            I’d take the Peugeot any day over the VW. It is really orders of magnitude nicer than the Gol.

            When I was doing some CNG related work, I saw the novo Gol (G5 I think) and it looked much better than the old one. But the oil company people (we were using their dyno) had them closed and didn’t see inside.

          • 0 avatar

            The g5 fixed most of the g4s interior faults. the gol g4 and first fox were the low points in vw do brasil’s history (in terms of finishing). i still don’t like the g5 interior that much, it’s rare a german car interior does anything for me. the 206 is much better than gol inside and out, but among the french, the brazilian experience is that renault’s are more durable and reliable.

  • avatar
    Glenn Mercer

    Um, I am not sure if the VPG is just “a high level car consultancy.” The company actually builds vehicles, jointly with AM General and Ford. (One might say “Hey, wait, that means AM General is the OEM and VPG is indeed just some kind of design consultancy.” That may be true, but on the other hand the manufacturer of record of the MV-1 vehicle, according to the NHTSA, is indeed the Vehicle Production Group, LLC. Always hard to figure out exactly who’s the boss with these “upfitted” vehicles; it’s a bit like the world of RVs.) I’ve seen more than a few on the road here in Ohio. Check their website: They make big SUV/CUV-like things specially fitted for disabled persons. It seemed like an odd place for Hogan to go, but then again, any company serving the elderly in the USA is serving a growing segment…

    • 0 avatar

      “high level car consultancy” actually sounds better than floundering random niche vehicle startup. Omitting it is kind of like the resumes with 3 year gaps. His last 15 years don’t look like steps up. Maybe he’s got pictures of Akio in a Nevada gentlemens club…

  • avatar

    Well, having been at GM for 31 years, Hogan certainly knows all the mistakes to avoid…

    • 0 avatar
      Athos Nobile

      I was reading a bit more about the guy, and found it worked side to side with Mr. Toyoda at NUMMI.

      I bet he’s more Toyota than GM. And GM had and still has positive things.

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