TOYOTATIMES

Let’s Create the Future Together (Full text of the CES 2020 interview with President Toyoda)

FROM THE EDITOR 2020.02.07

INDEX

During the Toyota press conference at CES 2020 in January, Akio Toyoda presented the creation of “Toyota Woven City,” a prototype city of the future. The bold plan goes beyond the normal framework of an automobile manufacturer, so much so that it was quickly picked up as a topic of discussion across the globe. Teruyuki Kagawa, Editor-in-Chief of Toyota Times, was stunned at this completely unexpected announcement, and arranged an interview with President Akio Toyoda immediately following the announcement. Kagawa asks the president a number of questions, including “Why is Toyota building a town?” and “What is Toyota’s goal?” The following is the interview in its fullness, and it includes Akio’s thinking about the future, in his own words.

It’s True That Roads Make Cars

Kagawa

President Toyoda, Happy New Year! I hope this will be a great year for you.

Akio

And to you!

Kagawa

Without further ado, we’ve just heard you make a stunning announcement as the new year begins. This announcement really took me by surprise. 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.

Akio

Yes, it would. [Laughs]

Kagawa

So you’re serious about this, then?

Akio

I am. And now I have to do it, don’t I?

Kagawa

You do, don’t you.

Akio

I’ve got no choice.

Kagawa

Toyota Times started about this time last year, when Toyota decided to become a mobility company. Have you solidified your thinking about what that means yet? Inside your head, that is.

Akio

Ha ha ha. [Laughs] You’d like me to say that, wouldn’t you? Actually, I haven’t [solidified my] thoughts. I mean, it would be much cooler if I could say it was solidified, but, in fact, I never imagined that an idea like this would come up when the decision to move Toyota to become a mobility company was reached.

Kagawa

Honestly?

Akio

No. Of course I had been thinking about what becoming a mobility company meant. As I was thinking about what sort of roads the e-Palette would be driving on eventually, I realized that yes, we do need roads for it to drive on. So yes, cars are created by roads.

For the future, too, whether for autonomous driving, or for any type of vehicle that people will drive, we will still need roads.

Kagawa

I see.

Akio

Since that presentation, I’ve been continually thinking “What sort of roads will autonomous driving use?” and “What kind of roads will those cars run on?” We want to make this city real by getting opinions and cooperation from all sorts of people—that’s what I just announced.

Kagawa

That is a very Toyota-like concept of “roads.” I’ve also been thinking, when it comes to automated driving, there are aspects of it that might be more suited for IT companies—automated driving, AI, that sort of thing. But when it comes to why it has to be Toyota, is that something you are covering in this announcement’s theme of “roads”?

Akio

Yes. Toyota has survived because it is a real company that makes cars. That’s been fine for the 80 years up to now. But from here on out, for Toyota to continue to be a company that is considered needed in the future as well, I think we need to first reform ourselves into a new mobility company, using Woven City as our base. This will be our platform—our town.

Kagawa

I see.

Akio

Therefore, it isn’t “we can achieve our goal if we build this,” instead it’s more like “we can’t achieve it without this.”

Kagawa

So then this is the start?

Akio

At least I think it will be, yes.

Toyota Has Already Transformed Once Before

Kagawa

I’d like to hear from your own lips what this Toyota Woven City thing is, including the company’s history.

Akio

Toyota started with automatic looms.

Kagawa

Indeed.

Akio

These machines would weave the warp and weft. Our roots are there; then, later, Toyota would go on to start making cars.

Kagawa

Right.

Akio

You see, the Toyota Group changed from a company that made looms to a company that makes cars—the entire company had a model change, if you will. Now the automobile industry is said to be facing a “once-in-a-century transformational period.” The question now is, how can our experiences putting our entire company through a “model change” in the past, this DNA if you will, be utilized as we move toward the future? That’s what this announcement was about.

As we move into the future, what sort of roads will new cars based on CASE—Connectivity, Autonomous/Automated, MaaS (Mobility as a Service) and Electrification—be running on? What sort of roads will allow life to be safe, enjoyable, and with people at the core?

Kagawa

I see. So you’re trying to transform from being an automotive company to being a company that builds towns.

Akio

More that we want to remain an automobile company, but one that also builds towns.

Kagawa

Ah, I see.

Akio

Because I like cars, you see. [Laughs]

Kagawa

Indeed.

Akio

So I want cars to remain vital modes of transportation, no matter what future we get.

Kagawa

I see.

Akio

And not only that, we need to think of cars not just as pure tools for getting around, but as something that’s fun for those using them. That, plus industrial products that have “love” attached. What people call their “beloved cars.” When we stopped riding horses and started driving cars, we stopped talking about our “beloved horses” and started talking about our “beloved cars.” I don’t know what they’ll be called rather than “beloved cars” when these are replaced by new mobility vehicles, but I really do want whatever new mobility vehicles Toyota makes in reality to have this love attached to them—this is something I feel strongly about.

It’s People That Build the Future

Kagawa

I understand. Hearing this Woven City concept and your announcement that “we’re going to do this starting now,” it made me wonder if machines and AI might end up controlling humans instead. Because for the past year, I’ve been constantly wondering about how in the future powerful AI, or robots will become part of our daily lives.

Akio

Indeed. That’s how I feel as well.

Kagawa

What about Woven City? This facility?

Akio

For example, being watched.

Kagawa

Right.

Akio

The person being watched may be wondering if he’s being watched. Maybe data needs to be provided, but we need to make clear the benefit of providing [a resident’s] data, or how someone will benefit from it. After all, it’s people who build the future.

Kagawa

Indeed.

Akio

So that means these people will think of this future as something welcome—it’s no good if we can’t provide a future that people look forward to. If the future we are building is one that collects data and where we are monitored by others, then it won’t be a future that people will accept.

But if that’s the case, we end up with “what’ll we do?”. So that is where Toyota comes in, and so lots of different people say “If that’s what you’re doing, then I’m in,” or “In that case, I want to be part of it.” The way I think is that the base—call it the fundamentals, the roads, whatever you like—will be Toyota Woven City.

Kagawa

So it’s always people at the center.

Akio

That’s what I want to emphasize.

Why the Announcement was made at CES

Kagawa

CES is normally a show for home electronics. So was that part of your thinking in terms of why you made this announcement here?

Akio

The Tokyo Motor Show’s changed, hasn’t it? From a motor show that only offered world premieres of cars to one with all those visitors, wondering “What’s the car of the future?” or “What’s the mobility vehicle of the future?”

Kagawa

Very true, last year. Definitely.

Akio

So that being the case, Japan’s too small a stage. The automobile industry is too small a stage. So that’s why I wanted to [wait] and do it, not at a motor show, but at CES, which is where the future is created, which attracts people from all over the world. Another reason for choosing CES is because this is where we announced e-Palette, which will be used as transportation here [Toyota Woven City], two years ago.

Kagawa

Ah, I see.

Akio

Toyota didn’t present the next-generation model of the e-Palette after two years, but how it will be used, our vision of how to create future mobility based on the e-Palette. It was very gratifying to be able to do so, and I would like to thank all my colleagues who have helped make it possible.

Kagawa

Dr. James Kuffner told me, smiling, when I watched you with him today, that “On behalf of TRI-AD I’m very excited to be asked to take on this project, sharing the president’s vision, and I’m going to make sure we see it through.”

Akio

He said that while smiling?

Kagawa

Yes, he said it with a huge smile on his face, like he always has. This brought home to me once more that the staff will come together as one and move forward in the direction of your vision.

Akio

Vision is about whether you enjoy something rather than thinking of it as work. If we can get people with a sense of ownership, of thinking “I want to do this,” to come together under Dr. Kuffner’s leadership, then I imagine we’ll see some interesting developments. That’s because they would all be doing it because they’re interested.

Kagawa

Indeed. That was also the expression on his face.

Akio

It was?

Kagawa

He made a silly excited face like a child would. [Laughs]

Akio

I don’t want him to lose that child-like nature.

We Can Do It Because We’re Toyota. But Toyota Can’t Do It Alone.

Kagawa

Two years ago, e-Palette was itself a product of your vision for the future. But [Toyota Woven City] makes the e-Palette really look like a thing of the past, showing just how far Toyota’s come in the past two years. Admittedly, I can’t hide my own surprise [at the announcement]. So, President Toyoda, you aim to begin construction at the start of 2021?

Akio

That’s already next year. This time next year, we’ll have started construction.

Kagawa

It’s not the far future at all, if you think of it that way.

Akio

Right. Everyone keeps saying “the future, the future,” but a deadline around then means it’s now clear that “we’re going to build this future by this time.”

I don’t think we could already tell by the start of next year if something can be achieved a decade from now. But because we’ll commence building at the start of next year, a decade from now things will have changed.

Kagawa

I see. So, let me just ask once more, are you really serious about this?

Akio

Well, I’m the president of a listed company called Toyota Motor Corporation.

Kagawa

That is indeed correct.

Akio

And I’m also a board member.

Kagawa

Right.

Akio

What I announced today was agreed upon by our board of directors in a venue acknowledged by the Commercial Code. If I were to just spout off anything I wanted, well, that would cause a lot of problems.

Kagawa

So, that’s how it is. This’ll be spread throughout Japan in commercials and things—and that’s okay?

Akio

It’s okay. It’s definitely okay.

Kagawa

It’s okay?

Akio

However, it’s like I said: “anyone who wants, come join us,” so we’re going to need many partners who want to build the future together. Because this is definitely not something Toyota’s going to be able to do alone.

Kagawa

I see.

Akio

This isn’t being done [just] for Toyota. However, it is, I believe, something that can be done because it’s Toyota doing it. Which is why we want people who want to use a given technology, who also have [this shared] vision for the future, to join us, build the future together with us. That’s what I want a whole lot of people to understand; that’s the sort of cheerleading squad I want to form.

Kagawa

For us at Toyota Times, we want to follow you to see how it goes, follow every detail.

Akio

Well, that’s your job as editor-in-chief.

Kagawa

Indeed. I’m going to do whatever I can this year as well. So I look forward to your assistance.

Akio

Of course.

Kagawa

Thank you for your time.

Akio

It was my pleasure.

Kagawa

And thank you for talking with me. If you have any more advice, I’d be glad to hear it.

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