Exactly one year on from when Teruyuki Kagawa, Toyota Times editor-in-chief, met President Akio Toyoda in Detroit. Kagawa's reporting started with the Supra and has since ranged across subjects from live action at races and test courses to Artificial Intelligence (AI), automated driving, and more recently reporting on Toyota's CES announcement about the concept of building a future city. How has all of this impacted Kagawa's feelings about the steadily changing face of Toyota?
Having Such a Concrete Plan Was a Total Surprise
Q: What’s your reaction to the announcement you heard today?
Well, I was actually expecting something along these lines. Not just another announcement about some vehicle software and telling us how much new technology it contains. I knew Toyota wasn’t going to simply announce something you’d expect at CES. Naturally, I thought it would be something for the next generation and Mobility for All. As Toyota is shifting to become a mobility company, it had to be tied to giving everyone a means of getting around so that they can go where they want and live convenient, healthy, enjoyable, and happy lives.
That’s what I thought the announcement might be about. But I didn’t think it would include such concrete details about something of this magnitude so near in the future, with a specific date and place already decided.
Normally, when it comes to deciding to do something completely new like this in such a big company, you would expect them to be overly conservative; you certainly wouldn’t think they’d all say “yes” to it. But that’s precisely what is great about Toyota right now. If you have a company that’s become a national flag carrier and another company that is newly emerging, it’s almost always going to be the emerging company that is ahead of the game. I think that’s the basic expectation in Japan, at least. But to see an old, heavyweight company like Toyota go right ahead and announce some amazing new thing like this, that seems like a great historic event. That’s how it feels to me, it’s a historic moment.
So That’s What It’s All Been Leading up to!
Q. Do you feel that there is some type of connection between the things you’ve reported on so far and this announcement?
Toyota did say it was becoming a “mobility company.” But, it wasn’t clear, at first anyway, what this meant for Toyota. To begin with, I wanted to know what the phrase “mobility company” meant in Japanese. But when translated into Japanese, you still don’t know what it means. A “mobility company?” Those are two words that normally I just don’t associate with each other.
So to start, I didn’t understand that. Then there was my experience of automated driving, and then AI, but I had to find out what the connection was between AI and automobiles. Then came talk about next-generation robotics research, but how was that connected with cars?
Of course, I could understand each of them separately. But now, at last, I get the feeling that I’ve been shown what it all means for a company that makes cars and delivers actual products to consumers. I guess you could say it’s all coming together.
You could say it’s like making a plastic model of a machine. As you make the individual parts, you put each one aside and say that you’ve finished one part. Next you do this one, and then you do that one, and when you’ve put it all together, you can see for the first time that the end product is something like a robot. So that’s what it’s all been leading up to!
Every little part gets connected to the whole. It’s still just an idea, but now I can see how far ahead they are. What President Toyoda is doing now, including the technology aspects, the corporate innovation aspects, and the incidental aspects that are created by chance; all is meandering together into one great wave. That’s the feeling here in Las Vegas. Yes, I didn’t quite expect this.
Will They Be Able to Hold Steadfast on This Objective?
Q. Do you think Woven City will be a success?
It has only just been announced, so I think whether this bet pays off will be seen later. What’s more important now is to build experience. To actually build this city at the base of Mt. Fuji, with people living in it day after day—the important thing is to carry on with that.
But, that’s not to say that there won’t be big challenges going forward. They’ll find that certain things are difficult, or things that aren’t possible. Maybe this or that won’t work, or they have to rethink parts of the plan. When that happens, it’s the technicians and engineers who will need to hold steadfast in the way that President Toyoda presented. Whether or not they can hold firm and see the project through to completion will likely be the second or third stage in the process, I guess.
As President Toyoda said, it has only just come into being. That’s true of course. You don’t tell a newborn baby to stop crying and get on with its homework. It’s enough for it just to be its cute little self. But that’s not enough when it’s 5, 10, 15, or 20 years old. To see what kind of young adult Woven City has grown into when it turns 20 years old will be very interesting.