James Kuffner once reprogrammed a Prius to turn it into a driverless vehicle for Google. Now, he's a top executive at Toyota Motor Corp., charged with hacking the very way it approaches the business of carmaking.
As chief digital officer, handpicked by President Akio Toyoda, the 50-year-old tech-industry veteran has a mandate to keep the world's No. 1 automaker on top as vehicles become more like computers.
The shift to electrified, autonomous vehicles is a disruptive force sweeping the industry, with Apple Inc. and other Big Tech challengers muscling in. At stake for Toyota is a global manufacturing empire churning out more than 10 million vehicles a year.
After showing the world a path away from gasoline with the Prius, Toyota is doubling down, betting billions of dollars on everything from hydrogen and battery-powered vehicles to entire cities built around self-driving cars. Key to it all is Kuffner.