TOKYO - Last year, former Toyota Motor Corp. president and founding family patriarch Shoichiro Toyoda called aside his son, Akio Toyoda.
He had a mission for the automaker's current president: Get out of the Asia-Europe-America rut and visit places you have never been.
So that's just what the younger Toyoda did. He visited Kenya for the first time last fall, touring Toyota's knockdown production plant and Toyota Group companies.
The visit was a textbook example of the Toyota maxim of genchi genbutsu, which literally means "actual place, actual things" but is best translated as "go to the source to see for yourself."
His trip highlights a new reality for Toyota and rivals from Europe to China: Africa is the last untapped emerging market. And carmakers are jostling for position there.
The potential is huge because motorization in Africa has yet to take off.
In South Africa, there were roughly 160 vehicles per 1,000 people, according to 2009 data compiled by IHS Automotive. But in Kenya and Nigeria - two of the most populous countries in Africa - there are fewer than 40 per 1,000.
The problem: Cashing in on big sales will take awhile.