TOYOTA CITY, Japan -- When Mitsuru Kawai began working at Toyota in 1966, at age 18, the company that would become the world's biggest automaker operated only two assembly plants. It built a modest 588,000 vehicles a year.
By the time the no-nonsense Kawai was promoted to the executive suite in April, at age 67, Toyota was churning out 10 million vehicles a year through 46 production affiliates in 28 countries.
It is perhaps because Kawai has seen so much of Toyota's past that President Akio Toyoda tapped the shop-floor veteran to help chart its future.
"I have witnessed the entire evolution, everything that has happened to this company," said Kawai, now a senior managing officer. "It has grown steadily like a tree. That excites me."
Now, Kawai's career dovetails with another radical transformation. Like never before, in the memory of most of today's workers at least, Toyota is reinventing itself to be leaner and meaner.
Call it Toyota 2.0. It is a sweeping metamorphosis. Years in the making, the overhaul aims to aggressively sharpen Toyota's game in everything from manufacturing and product planning to design and human resources.
"They are ready to make life very difficult for the competition," says Kurt Sanger, an auto analyst with Deutsche Securities Japan, who gives Toyota shares his only "buy" rating among Japanese automakers. "It's all quite impressive."
The rekindled confidence will be on display at this week's Tokyo Motor Show, where Toyota is parading a myriad of concepts, from a snappy compact sports car and futuristic hydrogen vehicle to a whacked-out retro concept, futuristic robot and possibly a preview of a future flagship for its Lexus luxury brand.