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FORMER Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda has announced he will retire as chair of the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association after an unprecedented three terms and will be succeeded by Isuzu Motors chair Masanori Katayama.

It is the first time JAMA’s top job will be filled by the boss of a truck-maker since the industry group’s founding in 1967.

Mr Toyoda, who earlier this year also stepped down as CEO of Toyota Motor Corporation, is noted for leading one of the world’s biggest, most vibrant automotive industries through a turbulent decade of dramatic and rapid change during his role at the top of JAMA.

JAMA usually rotates its role of chair every two years between Japan’s three biggest auto-makers – Toyota, Honda and Nissan.

Isuzu Motors chair Masanori Katayama

Mr Toyoda (67) was first appointed chair of JAMA in 2012, three years after he took over as president of the company his grandfather Kiichiro founded nearly 90 years ago.

He took the chair of JAMA again in 2018 and assumed an unprecedented third two-year term from May 2022. He will hand over to Mr Katayama on January 1, ending his term with the new calendar year.

JAMA said that during his tenure at the top, Mr Toyoda blossomed into a charismatic, high-profile champion of Japan’s automotive industry and, more generally, international enthusiasm for cars and driving.

As head of the world’s largest car-maker and Japan’s vast auto sector, Mr Toyoda had a perfect platform to promote the interests of auto-makers and suppliers around the world.

During a JAMA news conference last week in Japan to announce his retirement, Mr Toyoda said: “The automotive industry is a global industry, and all companies have gone global.

“The role of the Japanese auto industry in the world has changed day by day. But the automotive industry will have to continue to be an essential industry for this country.”

As one of the industry’s longest-serving top executives, Mr Toyoda brought long-term perspective and a steady hand as an elder statesman, sometimes serving as a counterpoint voice to new developments such as the sudden interest in autonomous driving technologies or the industry’s rapid plunge into battery electric vehicles (BEV).

Within Toyota, Mr Toyoda promised to protect Japan’s automotive industry and its reputation as a world leader, even as critics wondered whether the country had lost its edge and fallen behind on BEVs.

Truck: Japanese auto-maker association to be headed by a truck executive for the first time when Isuzu Motors chair Masanori Katayama takes over from Akio Toyoda.

As JAMA chair, however, Mr Toyoda was always aware of his role in collectively representing 5.5 million employees from 14 of the country’s automotive manufacturers.

He presented it as a challenge of guiding the industry through a “once-in-a-century change” as car-makers around the world aim to electrify their vehicles to counteract climate change.

Mr Toyoda said he was able to help change the global dialogue about the transition to BEVs and temper the urge among global regulators to mandate a wholesale shift to the technology.

“The general attitude in society has changed,” he said.

“Unfortunately, some people said we are lagging behind by a full lap,” he said of those criticising the slower rollout of full BEVs by Japanese auto-makers.

“But what pushed me forward was the 5.5 million people who work on the front lines. It takes time to change things.”

Among Mr Toyoda’s challenges was reviving the flagging Tokyo Motor Show amid waning global interest in auto expositions.

Akio Toyoda

JAMA rebranded the event as the Japan Mobility Show for this year’s showing to cast a wider net for high tech and start-up industries, drawing 1.11 million people.

As part of a recent JAMA overhaul, the group adopted vice-chairs from the bus-and-truck sector and from the motorcycle sector to better coordinate carbon-neutral activities.

By Neil Dowling

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