Takeshi Uchiyamada, aka "Mr. Prius," is set to step down as chairman. Did the man who always stood by Akio's side also have some harsh words for the president? A recap of the live broadcast.
As already reported, on January 26, Toyota announced changes to its leadership, including the post of president.
According to President Akio Toyoda, it was Chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada’s retirement that triggered the reshuffle at the top.
On a live Toyota Times News broadcast, the pair spoke about events leading up to the decision as well as their relationship.
Chairman Uchiyamada is known as the creator of the Prius, the world's first mass-produced hybrid car. During the 13 years of Akio’s presidency, he has helped run Toyota as executive vice president, vice chairman, and chairman.
What kind of presence was Chairman Uchiyamada in Akio’s life? What was their shared vision in managing Toyota to this day?
Here are some highlights from the on-air conversation between these two leaders who built the Toyota of today.
A Toyota man’s fulfilling life
Scene I: Chairman Uchiyamada’s departing message
As of April 1, I, Takeshi Uchiyamada, will be stepping down as chairman of Toyota’s board of directors. Since the president mentioned that this leadership change was triggered by my decision to retire, let me begin by talking about that.
For some time, I had been considering the timing of my retirement due to the need for a generational change. I wanted to step down before younger people saw my age as a liability.
To share a little about myself, when I was in my second year of junior high school, I decided that in the future, I wanted to develop cars at an automobile company. That’s how I found my way to Toyota, and I was thrilled that my wish had come true.
If I have one word to sum up my 54 years at Toyota, it is “gratitude.” I am extremely grateful to all the mentors and supervisors who nurtured me and all the colleagues and subordinates who worked by my side. I am also grateful to the company for providing me with such a variety of development opportunities.
Of my 25 years on the board, the first half was focused on globalization and the second on structural reforms.
I observed the leadership of President Toyoda closely as he poured his heart and soul into helping Toyota recover from the global financial crisis and the U.S. recall problem. In doing so, he also laid the foundations for passing the baton to the next generation, which is one reason behind my decision to retire.
Finally, I would also like to express my sincerest gratitude to our customers and shareholders for their warm support.
Please continue to give the new team your support and encouragement.
I have had a truly fulfilling life as a Toyota man. Thank you very much.
Developing hybrids was an engineer’s dream
Scene II: A video retracing the history of the Prius.
While the Prius has been evolving both in appearance and content, at the root of all this has been the passion passed down from Mr. Uchiyamada.
I believe so. And we’re not talking about your normal redesign but the very first Prius, not about a conventional engine but acquiring a new powertrain.
As Mr. Uchiyamada said, cars come with both conveniences and inconveniences.
Heading into the 21st century, we needed to minimize the inconveniences and maximize what’s fun. That’s the kind of development he was tasked with.
On top of that, being told to double the fuel economy must have made for an outrageous goal. He took the lead, not as a member of management but from his position as chief engineer.
I think the fact that he created the car from scratch without any image to base it on is why he is called “Mr. Prius.”
Creating something from nothing is extremely hard, isn’t it? Mr. Uchiyamada, how do you see it?
That’s right. As the president mentioned, the goal of doubling fuel efficiency, which would have been impossible with conventional technologies, made it all the more difficult.
Back then, the innovations and breakthrough technologies were still in the research stage, with everyone saying that commercialization was a long way off. I am truly grateful to the management team at the time for giving the green light to such a project.
Without that decision, we wouldn’t have been able to develop a hybrid. It was tough, but as an engineer and chief engineer, this was a dream project.
I’m sure the development was a real team effort, and as a newcomer to the company, Koji Sato was a member of that team.
Yes. I was born the same year that Mr. Uchiyamada joined the company. The development of the Prius was a series of challenges, with the hybrid team working hard at the center and the people in charge of other technologies determined not to be outdone. It was a project with broad ripple effects. I think it really brought us together and got Toyota’s fire going.