Toyota chief's dilemma: to race or not to race

Fri Jun 26, 2009 8:33am EDT
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By Chang-Ran Kim, Asia autos correspondent

TOKYO (Reuters Life!) - Akio Toyoda, president of Toyota Motor, wants speedy reforms at the world's biggest carmaker but many want him out of the fast lane.

Toyoda, 53, is an ardent racing fan who last month took part in the 24-hour endurance race on Germany's notoriously dangerous Nurburgring track for the third consecutive year.

Asked if he would continue to race, putting his safety at risk, the head of Japan's biggest company wouldn't give a conclusive answer, but revealed his passion for speed.

"The folks here are pleading with me to stop," Toyoda said, motioning toward his deputies who were at a news conference on Thursday where he sketched out plans for Toyota to become a leaner and more focused carmaker.

"But there's a reason why I participate in these races. First, it's because it's Nurburgring. Second, it's 24 hours. And third, it has a lot to do with the development of cars."

"Put another way, you can say that I'm staking my life to come up with a better product," he said.

Toyoda, who has said he wants to be a president "closest to the front lines," went on to describe the smooth tracks he's driven on in Japan and the demanding surface of Nurburgring.

Toyoda took over the helm of the company his grandfather established 71 years ago earlier this week.   Continued...

<p>Toyota Motor Corp President Akio Toyoda attends a news conference in Tokyo June 25, 2009. Toyoda said on Thursday that the world's biggest auto maker aims to return to profit as soon as possible but the tough times would continue for about two years. REUTERS/Toru Hanai</p>