Editor's note: Japan's prime minister, Shinzo Abe, said on March 24 that the 2020 Summer Olympics will be postponed one year.
TOKYO — For Japan's biggest automaker, the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics has been a five-year, about $1 billion bet on showcasing the company and its technology to the world.
But speculation is mounting here that the games will be postponed, or even canceled, because of the COVID-19 pandemic. If so, Toyota Motor Corp. might be out a bundle.
For starters, Toyota spent a reported $835 million in 2015 to sign on as a top sponsor of the games through 2024.
Since then, it has put untold millions into developing a fleet of electrified, new-mobility vehicles to roll out for the event — from hydrogen fuel cell buses to automated athlete shuttles and a cast of robots to help at events. A self-driving Toyota pod car is supposed to escort the torch relay.
Toyota also created a sophisticated worldwide marketing campaign called "Start Your Impossible" that revolves around the Olympics and the idea of delivering new modes of mobility to all people. It even spent years developing a new, more user-friendly taxi, the JPN Taxi, to transport the expected droves of international visitors flocking to the country for the world's biggest sporting event.
But now, maybe no one will come.
The International Olympic Committee, the Japanese government and Toyota are still publicly committed to lighting the flame in Tokyo's Olympic Stadium on July 24.
"With more than four months to go before the games, there is no need for any drastic decisions at this stage," the IOC said last week. Speculating about its fate, the committee said, is "counterproductive."
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also has been bullish on going ahead as scheduled. But that changed.
Last week, he opened some wiggle room for rescheduling the Olympics. Dodging questions on whether they should open as planned, Abe instead told reporters that the games should be held in their "complete form," and that he has the backing of other Group of Seven leaders. Japan's Olympic minister later did hasty damage control to clarify that Japan still wants stay to on track.
For its part, Toyota issued a statement saying it hasn't heard of any change in plans from the Olympic organizers, and thus, there is "no change of plans for Toyota as well."
But global skepticism and concern are spreading as the coronavirus reaches new frontiers. The head of the French Olympic Committee told Reuters the global pandemic must be on the wane by the end of May to green-light the Summer Games.
But President Donald Trump, meanwhile, has said the crisis in the U.S. could drag into August.
At the same time, Japan's Kyodo news agency reported that Canada's athletes' commission representative to the IOC called the committee "insensitive and irresponsible" for pushing ahead with the Summer Olympics. And a study of data from the Japan health ministry by Kyodo showed that the outbreak in Japan has not reached its peak yet.
A poll by the country's Asahi newspaper found that 63 percent of Japanese voters think the Summer Olympics should be postponed.