TOYOTATIMES

Why will Toyota build a city? Close-up Interview with President Toyoda at CES 2020

FROM THE EDITOR 2020.01.30

INDEX

CES, the world's largest trade show for products and technology, is held in Las Vegas, Nevada (USA) every January. This year, Toyota Times Editor-in-Chief, Teruyuki Kagawa, heard that Toyota would make an important announcement, so he flew all the way to Las Vegas. If this announcement wasn’t something really major, Kagawa was in no mood to go easy on President Akio Toyoda.

Toyota's Changing Again!?

Arriving at the venue early in the morning, Kagawa encountered Dr. James Kuffner, the CEO of TRI-AD. He had interviewed Dr. Kuffner just three months prior at his office located in Nihonbashi, part of Tokyo. Having just gone to check out the booth, where it was still being assembled and the key parts of the information panels were hidden, Kagawa was moving in for a closer look when he was stopped by Dr. Kuffner. Dr. Kuffner saw what Kagawa was up to and told him that these secrets would be revealed at the announcement. Despite his lingering doubts thatPresident Toyoda really was going to say something exciting, Kagawa went to take his seat at the announcement venue.

[02:02]
Dr. Kuffner

President Toyoda will explain something exciting about how Toyota's evolution.

Kagawa

Is he really going to say something that exciting? But this is CES–it's not the Tokyo Motor Show.

Dr. Kuffner

Toyota as a company is going to become something much bigger than just cars.

Kagawa

Toyota's changing. So he's going to tell us about what else is changing?

Dr. Kuffner

Yes. Let's go together!

Prototype City of the Future: Toyota Woven City

Recently, CES has seen an increasing number of automobile companies exhibiting, even though the show was originally focused on home electronics. Typically, auto or motor shows have been considered more suitable places for car makers to make announcements about their automobiles. So why did Toyota deliberately choose CES as the place to make this announcement? This question was crossing Kagawa’s mind when President Akio Toyoda finally made his appearance on stage.

In front of the assembled crowd, President Toyoda started out by saying “...virtually every industry is trying to predict the future,” and continued, “we are focused on the future of Connectivity, Autonomy, Shared Mobility, and Electrification, or CASE as we call it. In addition, we are pursuing the future of artificial intelligence (AI), human mobility, robotics, materials sciences, and sustainable energy.”

When President Toyoda asked the crowd, “What if we had the opportunity to do it all in one place, in a real-life environment?”, their expectations rose. What he was announcing was Toyota’s concept of building a future city. One that would be called Toyota Woven City.

[03:57]
Akio

On this 175 acre site (708,000 m2) site in Higashi-Fuji, Japan, we have decided to build a prototype town of the future where people live, work, play, and participate in a living laboratory. Imagine a fully controlled site that would allow researchers, engineers, and scientists the opportunity to freely test technology.

To Make the World a Better Place

For the design of Toyota Woven City, Toyota has commissioned Danish architect, Bjarke Ingels. Mr. Ingels has worked on a wide range of architecture, including for public housing, hospitals, power plants, and museums. He is one of today’s most visionary, revolutionary architects.

Mr. Ingels’ design for Toyota Woven City has three types of roads. The first type is for faster transportation, like cars–roads for mobility. The second type will be shared by pedestrians and slower personal mobility. And the third type of street will be a linear park with paths for pedestrians only. These three types of streets will then be woven together into the city blocks.

The entire infrastructure and distribution network of the city will be underground. And naturally, among the vehicles being used in this town will be automated driving vehicles, such as e-Palette announced at CES exactly two years ago.

[06:49]
Akio

So Bjarke, I'm sure everyone here is wondering... when can they move in?

Bjarke

Well... I think to some degree that's up to you, boss! But right now we are planning to break ground in phases... beginning in 2021.

Akio

At first, we plan on having roughly 2,000 people live there, then more as it grows. In fact, we plan to roll out the welcome mat to anyone interested in participating in this project with us, to anyone inspired to improve the way we live in the future.

But I truly believe this is a project that can benefit everyone, not just Toyota.

[Skipped]

Akio

I believe it's up to all of us, especially corporations like Toyota, to do our part to help make the world a better place. It's a responsibility and a promise we don't take lightly. And this Woven City is one small, but hopefully significant step, toward fulfilling that promise.

Rather Than Thinking “We Can Achieve Our Goal If We Build This,” we think “We Can’t Achieve It Without This.”

The moment the announcement ended, Kagawa, who was still sitting beside Dr. Kuffner, commented, saying: “He’s dropped a bombshell in everyone’s laps.”

With the world’s eyes on him at CES, President Toyoda had actually announced a grand plan of building an entire city. What on earth was he thinking? Kagawa lost no time in catching up with President Toyoda to ask him directly.

[09:02]
Kagawa

We’ve just heard you make a stunning announcement. Are you serious about this?

Akio

Well, having announced it in front of so many people, it’d be a bit of a problem if I was just kidding.

Kagawa

That would be a problem, yes.

People are Always at the Center

President Toyoda was completely serious. So why did he decide to make a city?

“From here on out, for Toyota to continue to be a company needed by people in the future, we need to reform ourselves into a new mobility company, using Woven City as our base. So, rather than thinking ‘we can achieve our goal if we build this,’ we think ‘we can’t achieve it without this’.”

The platform Toyota needs in order to create the future is a prototype city, Toyota Woven City.

Kagawa expressed his concern that AI and robots, which he feels should be controlled by humans, might end up controlling humans instead. President Toyoda responded in the following way:

[10:55]
Akio

After all, it’s people who build the future. So that means we can’t do it if these people don’t have a reason to welcome this future.

Kagawa

So people are always at the center.

Now More Than Ever We Have to Keep Our Eyes on Toyota

“Wow, I mean, I heard there was going to be an announcement, but a city?”

Looking back on this shocking announcement, Kagawa was uncertain about how to react. Upon further reflection, the first Toyota Times article was about the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, exactly one year ago. The publication started with a report on the Supra, an internal combustion car, reeking of gasoline. Now, the publication has grown to also cover developments in AI and robotics, experienced automated driving, and have finally made the leap to cities of the future. What’s going to happen with Toyota in the future? Will humans be controlled by technology? Kagawa reaffirmed his commitment to providing even more thorough reporting, as he said:

[12:25]
Kagawa

Well, Toyota said they’re going to link everything, and they will, but they’ve gone more expansive. However, can humans really remain in control of Woven City? We’ll have to see if humans really do remain at the core.

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