TOKYO -- Toyota Motor Corp. chief Akio Toyoda is set to remain a dominant force inside the world's largest automaker for years to come and will continue to influence the agenda after stepping down in April, experts and people familiar with the automaker said.
The 66-year-old Toyoda on Thursday announced he would step aside as leader of the company his grandfather founded from April 1 to take the role of chairman. He will hand over to Koji Sato, the 53-year-old head of Toyota's luxury Lexus brand.
In recent years Toyota has become a target of activists and green investors who had once heralded its hybrid technology, but who now criticize its belated embrace of electric vehicles.
As EV maker Tesla gets attention for its innovation, Toyota, and Toyoda himself, often looked out of touch with the mood as they pressed the case for hybrids and eventually, hydrogen-fueled cars.
Market reaction to Toyoda's announcement was muted -- the automaker's stock price was little changed on Friday -- as investors bet the company was unlikely to see a big overhaul in the foreseeable future.
"The new appointment is less about a change in direction and more about careful consideration of the best possible way to organize the handover, avoiding disruption and chaos," said Julie Boote, an analyst at Pelham Smithers Associates in London.
"It's likely that he will remain active as chairman for a long time and continue to put his mark on Toyota," Boote said.
At 53, Sato will become one of only a handful of "outsiders" - non-members of the Toyoda family - to have held the top job at an automaker whose position and influence within corporate Japan cannot be overstated.
Toyota's supply chain extends to some 60,000 suppliers, making it critical to jobs in the world's third-largest economy.