Japan's industry gets auto royalty in new spokesman with Akio Toyoda

TOKYO -- Japan's auto industry association has tapped an unlikely -- but increasingly well-suited -- CEO to be its next chairman as the country's beleaguered carmakers battle falling sales at home and the hollowing out of their factories.

Akio Toyoda, president of Toyota Motor Corp. and grandson of the company's founder, is scheduled to take over in May as the head of the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, the industry's top lobbying group.

His appointment is to be approved at a May 17 board meeting, JAMA says.

Japan's automakers take turns sending executives to head up the organization, and Toyoda will relieve Nissan COO Toshiyuki Shiga who has held the post since 2010.

Insiders said there was some debate within Toyota about whether the company would offer up their president or perhaps send another high ranking executive.

Toyoda took the helm at his namesake company, Japan's largest automaker, in 2009 and marked his first two years in office as a media-shy recluse who rarely strayed from the script under public scrutiny.

Those inclinations don't necessarily match the duties of the JAMA chairman, who is charged with holding monthly news conferences.

But over the past year, as Toyoda regained footing following the company's recall debacle and Japan's devastating earthquake, he has assumed a higher profile.

These days, he increasingly speaks in public and when he does, he invariably hammers away at two key themes: Preserving Japan's industrial base and inspiring Japanese consumers to become more passionate about cars -- and buy more of them.

As a passionate car guy and ardent racing fan, Toyoda's message is right on target and fitting for the next ambassador of Japan's car industry.