Toyota Motor Corp. President Akio Toyoda wants to take personal responsibility for injecting design and performance pizazz into the Lexus brand.
In essence, Toyoda is setting out to be the automaker's equivalent of the late Steve Jobs, the legendary boss of Apple.
An excellent story in this week's Automotive News, by Asia Editor Hans Greimel, lays out how Toyota's boss is getting more hands-on with the luxury brand
He recently reorganized his company into four groups, one of which is solely devoted to Lexus. The other three groups report to an executive vice president who reports to Toyoda. The Lexus group skips the EVP and reports directly to Toyoda.
Greimel quotes Toyoda as saying that at Lexus design reviews, the room is full of engineers and businessmen who bring plenty of left-brain firepower to the discussion. "My role is simply to talk with the right side of my brain," Toyoda said.
Akin to Apple
That sounds strikingly similar to the role Jobs played at Apple.
Lots of computer and consumer-electronics companies make gadgets that, technically, range from competent to excellent. What largely set Apple apart was Jobs' insistence that the company's products met his uncompromising standards for clean designs and user-friendly interfaces.
In the auto world, there's a long tradition of a boss with a singular vision for his cars. Think Henry Ford, Enzo Ferrari and Soichiro Honda. But the list is overwhelmingly populated by engineers.
Akio Toyoda is not an engineer.
What he brings to Lexus is a hard-earned reputation as a driver, a man who understands a car's driving dynamics and handling, and his sense of style. Toyoda has often shown more fashion flair than his gray-suited Japanese colleagues. Here's a minor example.