KATSUYAMA, Japan -- When it comes to preaching love of cars, Akio Toyoda leads by example.
At a remote Japanese mountainside in mid-October, the 60-year-old CEO was prowling pit row at 6 a.m. in a red-white-and-black Toyota Gazoo Racing suit checking out the competition.
Hours later, he was piloting his No. 104 silver Toyota 86 coupe around the surrounding hills as one of 75 entrants in the Fukui Rally, a stop on a national circuit sponsored by Toyota.
It's a decidedly local event. No national media, no crowds, no big-name drivers or advertisers, except Akio himself and Toyota Motor Corp., the country's biggest, richest automaker.
With no pretenses, the chief executive queues in line with the amateur drivers to register and then stands blended into the crowd, listening patiently to safety instructions and course rules from the event's organizer. Later, Toyoda greets fans, poses for photos and does a stand-up for a local broadcaster singing the praises of the fukudon rice bowl, a local delicacy.
Getting out and driving, no matter how grassroots, is key to Toyoda's effort to cultivate excitement for cars within Toyota. The ossified bureaucratic giant, critics say, lost its way when employees became mired in their daily desk jobs and drifted away from four-wheeled product.
The Five Continents Drive is one response. Toyoda's hot laps are another.