Chairman Toyoda Takes a Back Seat for the First Time in 15 Years


For the first time since 2009, Chairman Akio Toyoda did not chair the general meeting, but instead joined President Koji Sato and the other current executives in answering shareholder questions.

“It’s been 15 years since the chairperson last called on me—I forgot how nerve-wracking it is...”

So remarked Akio Toyoda as he was put on the spot by President Koji Sato, speaking from the chairperson’s seat at Toyota’s General Shareholders’ Meeting. After a string of questions about certification issues and shareholder returns, the room’s tense atmosphere lightened for a moment.

Akio was appointed president of Toyota at the general meeting in 2009 and chaired every subsequent session until 2023. Now, at last, he is back to simply being a respondent. His calm expression belied his talk of feeling nervous.

Among the questions raised at this year’s General Shareholders’ Meeting, Chairman Toyoda provided two responses. In this article, we highlight those moments.

A city built on a history of passion

――What efforts are being made to implement autonomous driving in Woven City, and how will they be commercialized?

First came this question.

The Woven City concept was unveiled at CES 2020. Chairman Toyoda has a strong attachment to the project, going so far as to personally invest in the company behind it, Toyota Research Institute-Advanced Development (now Woven by Toyota) * .

*In September 2023, Toyota Motor Corporation announced that Woven by Toyota would become a wholly owned subsidiary. As part of this move, Akio Toyoda also relinquished his shareholdings. At the time, he emphasized that “my feelings toward Woven by Toyota, which I consider like my own child, have not changed.”

This connection explains why, in response to the shareholder’s question, President Sato passed the microphone over, saying, “I would like to call on Chairman Toyoda, the owner and founding member of the Woven City project.”

Chairman Toyoda

I’m Akio Toyoda. Allow me to answer your question.

It’s been 15 years since the chairperson last called on me—I forgot how nerve-wracking it is.

Thank you greatly for continuing to choose Toyota cars over so many years. And thank you also for taking an interest in Woven City.

Although I was just introduced as one of the project’s founding members, the idea for Woven City, in fact, originated from a question from an employee at the former Kanto Auto Works (now Toyota Motor East Japan).

When we made the decision to close the Kanto Auto Higashi-Fuji Plant, many of the employees were concerned about what would become of the facility.

I visited the site, and while speaking in front of the entire plant staff, the words just slipped out: “I want to turn this into a test course for the future.”

I believe that’s where the idea for Woven City began. Over the six years since, countless people have contributed to making it a reality.

The first phase of construction will be completed next year. However, Woven City is not being built on vacant land but upon half a century of history, during which our colleagues worked passionately for the benefit of the community and the auto industry.

In that sense, this is the site of carmakers’ dreams. I hope that Woven City will be a place where those who come after us can think, deliberate, and fail together as they keep striving to create the future.

And being a carmaker down to my bones, I hope the city will give birth to new forms of mobility that can astonish a car guy like me.

The Woven City project is being led by young people. We are making this investment in the future certainly not because we know the right answers, but in the belief that our actions today will change how the future looks.

I also believe that such future investments are made possible only through the support provided by you, our shareholders. Next year, as the city becomes home to inventors and other residents, I hope Woven City will continue to receive your interest and endorsement.

At Toyota, we want to show that the future can be created right here in Japan. As our shareholders, I would like to ask for your ongoing support, understanding, and encouragement.

The corner of Susono City, Shizuoka, where Woven City will stand, was once home to the Kanto Auto Works Higashi-Fuji Plant. After Kanto Auto merged with Central Motor and Toyota Motor Tohoku to become Toyota Motor East Japan, the Higashi-Fuji Plant closed its doors in 2018, ending a 53-year history.

At the time of the closure, then-President Toyoda spoke to employees about the “Connected City” concept that would become Woven City.

*For past Toyota Times coverage of Woven City, including Akio’s thoughts as construction got underway, see the Related Links section at the end of this article.

Woven City began as a vision for the future. As Chairman Toyoda closed out his comments, the venue erupted in applause.