In fact, in many ways Koji Sato is a mini-me version of his longtime mentor.
As the head of the Lexus premium brand and Gazoo Racing motorsports division, Sato's mission was to break the boring old Toyota mold by developing "cool," stylish, fun-to-drive cars. He succeeded by channeling Toyoda's encouragement to take risks and stir things up.
"President Toyoda always told us it's OK to fail," Sato said after being tapped as the next CEO from April 1. "If you never test your limits, then new creations are never born."
Sato's new challenge will be applying that mindset to the whole company.
He is tasked with not only navigating a largely hidebound legacy metal-bender through an industry under siege by electrification, autonomous driving and connectivity, but with transforming the world's largest automaker into a "mobility company," using whatever means that entails.
Toyoda, 66, said Sato's "youth" — he is 53 — will help write the next chapter of Toyota history.
"The new team under incoming President Sato has a mission to transform Toyota into a mobility company," Toyoda said in announcing the appointment on Thursday. "He has youth and like-minded colleagues. I expect this new team to go beyond the limits that I can't break through."
Toyoda took the helm in 2009 and steered his family's namesake company through a long period of unprecedented tumult and soaring prosperity.
Sato, as the first non-family CEO in more than a decade, could keep a hand on the wheel through 2030, a stretch that promises rapid and disruptive upheaval for the entire auto industry. Whether he adapts and delivers, or flounders, could have a pivotal impact on Toyota, analysts say.
"There are a lot of complicated issues to contend with over the next decade; there is going to be a lot of change," said Christopher Richter, lead Asia auto analyst at CLSA in Tokyo. "Toyota is starting from a great base, but Mr. Sato certainly has his work cut out for him."