TOKYO -- Akio Toyoda believes firmly in the value of genchi genbutsu, the Toyota Motor Corp. doctrine of going on site to see for yourself. So the president of the world's biggest carmaker visits factories, drops in on dealerships and takes cars to test tracks.
Lots of cars.
By his own estimate, Toyoda, 53, test drives 200 cars -- Toyota's and rivals' -- a year. Executives say he takes three to the track each week, then pens detailed reports about them.
"It's unbelievable, the number of test-drive reports he sends me," Executive Vice President Yukitoshi Funo says. "I test drive maybe once a month, at best. He test drives all the time."
Toyoda sees his busy schedule behind the wheel as an embodiment of being a hands-on manager. The self-proclaimed car guy says it's more than keeping tabs on the competition. It's about injecting his products with style and flair.
The test drives stand as testimony to Toyoda's commitment to product. But they also raise questions about attempts to infuse the brand with the driving instincts of its boss.
"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and he's only one set of eyes," says Chris Richter, an auto analyst at CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets in Tokyo. "A lot of car companies have been driven into the ground by executives who say they have gasoline in their veins."