Akio Toyoda Was the Car CEO We All Wanted To Be

The famous car guy is stepping down as Toyota CEO, so it’s time to remember his enthusiasm for driving fast.

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Akio Toyoda Was the Car CEO We All Wanted To Be © Akio Toyoda Was the Car CEO We All Wanted To Be

It's unwise to assume every car company CEO is a car fanatic, but with Akio Toyoda, it's a safe bet. His love for rowing gears and thrashing internal combustion-powered cars even has some folks questioning Toyota's stance on electrification but he's never backed down from the idea that cars should be exciting. He wanted enthusiasm for the cars he made, which he made clear since the beginning.

There's plenty of evidence from Toyoda's long tenure that points to that. He led the world's largest automaker the way many of us imagine we would: By driving race cars and selling performance models of every kind to the public. Here are just a few points for proof as we celebrate the madman's career.

Toyoda Raced for Real as "Morizo"

While it's a well-known piece of trivia nowadays, Akio Toyoda's racing alter-ego "Morizo" started secretly. After spending countless laps learning from the late Hiromu Naruse, Toyota's beloved chief test driver, Toyoda entered the Nurburgring 24 Hours in 2007. His pseudonym bought him some cover, though he eventually confirmed his identity to the world.

“I would have been harshly criticized if I’d used my own name,” he said. “It was about seasoning the car. I needed to develop my own senses to build a better car.”

Naruse, left, with his protege Toyoda, on the right.

Now, the GR Corolla's most hardcore special edition wears the Morizo name.

He Made the Lexus LFA Possible—And Fantastic

Toyoda took over Naruse's role as master driver before stepping into the chief executive spot. He was the director of operations for Toyota's efforts in China when the Lexus LFA hit the scene, and he had a tremendous hand in making the V10 supercar happen. The clout he carried as a member of the Toyoda family certainly made a difference, though it was his input as a driver that helped refine it to near perfection.

“He may not be an engineer,” said the LFA's chief engineer Haruhiko Tanahashi, "but he knows what he likes and doesn’t like, and he is enthusiastic. Once he gets behind the wheel it’s hard to get him out; you have to show him the flag!”

The Toyota Supra Was Revived Under His Watch

Even if you despise the new Supra for being more BMW than JDM, you have to respect that it exists. Toyoda saw that the brand's famed sports car came back in our lifetimes; he took it personally as he apparently owns an incredibly clean MkIV Supra. Of course, he made sure it became a race car, too—he drove it at the Nurburgring in 2019, again as Morizo.

It even has a manual transmission now, so (almost) all is right in the world.

Toyoda Drove Every GR Yaris Test Mule

For years, the GR Yaris has taunted us in the United States as a rally-bred piece of forbidden fruit. We get the GR Corolla, which is pretty similar and also great, but the OG three-cylinder hot hatch is lighter and therefore more fun. Toyoda made sure of it by driving every GR Yaris test mule before it reached production.

Few automaker CEOs other than Ford's Jim Farley seem to share this same passion for driving performance, and it shows in Toyota's production models. Man, is that thing sweet or what?

Greenlit Hydrogen-Combustion AE86

Most recently, Toyoda addressed concerns that he's against dropping fossil fuels by flaunting a pair of converted AE86 Corollas. One is pretty tame with a Tundra hybrid battery pack and small electric motor, while the other utilizes the factory 4A-GE modified to burn hydrogen instead of gasoline.

It takes a real car guy to champion what's arguably the favorite model of a relatively small niche and bring it into the 21st century with alternate fuel. This guy, he gets it.

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