Koji Sato, an engineer with a background in diesel engines, was named the future chief executive of Japan’s top automaker Toyota Motor Corp on Thursday, tasked with steering the company toward clean energy.

Sato, currently CEO of Toyota’s luxury brand Lexus, will succeed Akio Toyoda as Toyota CEO on April 1.

Under Akio Toyoda, the automaker has taken a slow approach to electric vehicles, arguing that the hybrid technology it pioneered in the Prius will remain as important as investments in hydrogen.

Sato studied diesel engine combustion at university and joined Toyota hoping to “contribute to society by creating the future of diesel engines,” according to an interview on the website of Gazoo, Toyota’s motorsports brand.

Although the 53-year-old oversaw the development of Lexus’ first all-electric model, he also said he would retain other options for powering the vehicle.

He spoke about the potential of hydrogen in Thailand last year, and Akio Toyoda himself drove a hydrogen-powered Toyota racing car car During an endurance race, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported.

“It won’t immediately replace EVs, but when EV growth eventually levels off, it’s good that people know there are other options,” Sato said of hydrogen-powered vehicles in the report.

Sato started his carHe worked at Toyota in 1992 before being promoted to chief engineer of Lexus International in 2016, according to his profile on Toyota’s website.

“The industry itself is facing once-in-a-century disruption, with many unknowns to contend with,” said John Shook, a former Toyota manager who now advises the company on the lean management techniques it pioneered. “I can imagine Aminfu thinking that now is the time for a transition so that his successor can navigate the uncertainties ahead.”

Sato has served as President of Lexus International and Gazoo Racing Company since 2020.

Christoph Fricht, deputy head of Japan research at CLSA, said he also held executive roles at Toyota and became its chief brand officer in January 2021, which is good news for the company because the industry is changing.

“Having people who are sensitive to the needs of a brand’s development is even more important as you move into the era of electric vehicles, where a lot of brand changes have occurred,” Richter said.

car Companies used to live and die by their engines. You are changing vehicles of a different type. Building the brand around this new architecture, this new driver (…) is key,” he added.

In his spare time, Sato enjoys visiting temples in Kyoto and practicing the Japanese tea ceremony, according to a profile on the Gazoo website. The profile says he drives a Toyota Supra passed down from his father-in-law.

One of the main reasons Sato was elected as a successor was his love of creating cars, Toyoda said in an official announcement broadcast online.

That enthusiasm is evident in a short video released in 2021, in which Sato sits next to Toyoda as they test drive a Toyota Lexus. As Toyoda speeds up and cheers excitedly, Sato can be seen grinning and bursting into laughter now and then, unable to contain his joy.

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