"The automotive industry has entered an uncharted era," says Akio Toyoda on many occasions, and carbon neutrality is now increasing the unpredictability even more. But for Akio, the key in moving forward is clear; it is to continue taking action with a resolute will.
On May 23, 2021, as the world-first hydrogen engine car was finishing its last lap in the 24-hour endurance race, hitting the last corner, the overjoyed ROOKIE Racing team members assembled along the home straight to welcome the #32 Corolla and its driver Akio Toyoda.
The very first test for the hydrogen-fueled engine could only last five minutes before it broke down. With the same but improved engine, the team could complete 1,634 km in the 24-hour race. Just after successfully finishing the reckless challenge, Akio shared his growing confidence, saying “We made a first step of expanding the paths to a carbon neutral society of the future.”
On June 15 of the year, the day just before its 117th Ordinary General Shareholders’ Meeting, Toyota’s share surpassed 10,000 yen on the Tokyo Stock Exchange for the first time since the company was listed.
Looking at the world now, the COVID-19 has continued to affect people’s lives and economy. Even so, thanks in part to the share price milestone, the topics in the Q&A session of this year’s shareholders’ meeting were mostly forward-looking, discussing the paths Toyota intends to take for the future. It was clearly different from the first shareholders’ meeting that Akio chaired after becoming president in 2009, in which he had to face tough issues resulting from the struggling first year as president to steer the deficit-making company.
“I believe that there is a world of difference between simply letting things run the course for the next 20 to 30 years, and how it might look in the next 20 to 30 years if we continue to take action with passion and with the will to make the future better,” Akio said in his closing remarks of this year's meeting.
Back in May, Akio had said something very similar when he shared his belief in how to face a carbon-neutral future with the 24-hour race members who had taken on the hydrogen-powered engine challenge. “I believe that it is through ‘purposeful passion and action’ that we will create a future of carbon neutrality.”
For most people, the reality is something to accept rather than to change, and the future is another day of the reality. But for Akio, the reality is filled with areas to improve, and the future is definitely something to change, which is no easy task. It requires a resolute will to continuously take action and move forward while sometimes making mistakes and improvements together with colleagues in the genba (workplace or where things are happening), as represented by Akio’s desire to be “the most genba-oriented president.”
No one has a clear answer for the carbon-neutral era, as the scenes of this year’s shareholders’ meeting were unpredictable 12 years ago. The future will be different from now no matter what, but how different it will be depends on the purposeful passions and actions of those who are facing the reality now.