On the final day of Toyota Times' live coverage of Rally Hokkaido, Morizo--aka Chairman Akio Toyoda--visited the studio for an on-air interview with Hitoshi Hongo, former editor-in-chief of Best Car magazine.
[Q4] Is the Celica really coming back?
If I don’t ask this next question, the viewers won’t forgive me: is a new Celica really on the cards?
You’ll have to ask Toyota Motor about that. I’m not on the executive side.
But you could put in a request, right?
Well, I have, but I don’t know what name it will come out under.
Surely no one would refuse a request by Morizo?
Oh no (laughs). Plenty would. Some people are sick of hearing what Morizo has to say.
But in a sense, that’s diversification. Without people like that, the Prius wouldn’t be what it is.
I won on the Crown, but the Prius was claimed by people who didn’t want to side with me. I think it’s good that we became a product-centered company capable of having such discussions for the sake of making ever-better cars.
When I said we’re going to make ever-better cars, I was often asked, “What is a good car to you, Morizo?” My only response was, “You'll have to figure that out for yourself.” Yet, as a result, even though it took us ten years, I feel we’ve become a company that produces lots of what I consider to be ever-better cars. I believe we need to ensure that our product-centered approach and commitment to the genba continue to be passed down.
So, what was the question again? Oh yes, the Celica.
I’m not just saying this because we’re at a rally event, but Kankkunen (who was invited to the demo run) is Mr. Celica. He was champion four times in the Celica. Now you can all have a think about why I’m using Kankkunen so much. See if you can guess!
Morizo delivered those last words straight down the camera, leading one viewer to comment: “Pressure’s on!”
[Q5] Why the focus on Japanese rally?
Hongo asked why Morizo is putting so much effort into rally in Japan.
While entering a team in the world championship, Toyota also hosts an entry-level event called Rally Challenge.
To move up to a higher competition category, however, you can’t suddenly leap from entry-level to the world championships, or from your local baseball team to the majors. In baseball, for example, you go through the amateur, professional, and major leagues in order. That’s why you need the various rally events in each country, like All Japan or Rally Finland.
This time, I wanted people to see Latvala’s world-class ability with their own eyes—to see the difference in level when the All Japan drivers we’ve been watching go up against the world. Likewise, when the (men’s) basketball team competed as the host nation at the Olympics, we saw the gap with the rest of the world. And as we realized how tough the world stage is, they turned around and made it into the 12 teams (that will compete in Paris). To have that kind of experience, the All Japan rally needs to ensure the supply of both cars and talent, otherwise we won’t be able to take on the world.
Takamoto (Katsuta) is now a regular member of the WRC team, but the number of seats is limited. You never know when a driver’s time is going to come. Having a competitive environment across various categories gives us a deep pool to draw from when those opportunities arise. That’s why I also invite other manufacturers to take part. If Toyota is the only strong team, that doesn’t make rally truly competitive or more exciting.
[Q6] The new DAT cars
Toyota’s newly developed Direct Automatic Transmission (DAT) is being trialed in vehicles racing in Super Taikyu and rally. Viewers are also curious about its future potential.
This will be a game-changer for automatics. Auto transmissions are more than just slower versions of manuals that we put up with because they make it easier for many to drive.
Although many hurdles remain, we completed the recent Super Taikyu race. We first ran DATs at the TOYOTA GAZOO Racing Rally Challenge, then gradually upped the speed and distance. Even in the grueling conditions of Super Taikyu, we managed to finish the race, breaking and fixing things time and again over the three days.
I really want to make this happen, and for many people to drive these cars. For instance, those who only drive automatic could enjoy motorsports. They can experience the different sounds and the sensation of downshifting and upshifting.
One thing I learned in Super Taikyu is that, even though I have closed the gap with professional drivers, the difference in shifting is another matter. Every time I change gears on a straight, I lose two-tenths of a second. With two changes, I fall nearly half a second behind. With the new automatic transmission, there’s no time lost when shifting, so the gap between myself and the pros was smaller than usual. I can just concentrate on steering, braking, and accelerating.
Morizo wrapped things up with a punchline: “Do you know what else DAT stands for? Dat’s Akio Toyoda!” Before leaving the studio, he also penned a message for viewers: “From Hokkaido to the World.”
Our archive of Hokkaido’s two-day taste of world-class driving
Morizo’s demo run, shown during our September 10 broadcast, can be found at 0:29:55.
The previous day, September 9, also featured many must-see moments for motorsports fans, including footage of the special stage, demo runs by Morizo and Kankkunen, and a studio interview with Juha Kankkunen himself. Be sure to check them out in our archive.