Toyota wants people to know it's not just an automaker anymore

 25 Oct 2017 - 22:00

Toyota wants people to know it's not just an automaker anymore
Toyota Concept-AI is on display at the Toyota booth during the Tokyo Motor Show in Tokyo on October 25, 2017. The motor show which started October 25 will last November 5. AFP / Toshifumi Kitamura

Kevin Buckland

Toyota Motor Corp. wants the world to know it’s not a car manufacturer -- it’s a human movement company.

Japan’s largest automaker is using the Tokyo Motor Show this week as a pulpit for its global rebranding and forays into other markets including rehabilitation robots to mobility services. The company has dubbed the initiative “Start Your Impossible,” drawing inspiration from the athletes who’ll compete at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, of which Toyota is a top sponsor. That year looms large on Toyota’s calendar -- it plans to showcase a network of connected fuel cell buses, AI-powered autonomous highway driving, a redesigned national taxi fleet, and possibly even a flying car.

“The passion for mobility goes beyond cars,” Toyota Executive Vice President Didier Leroy said during a presentation to open the motor show Wednesday. “For us, it means expanding our capability into technologies that can help people move around town or across the room.”

Toyota is far from alone in seeking new revenue streams amid what President Akio Toyoda has called a once in a century paradigm shift for the auto industry. From General Motors Co. to Volkswagen AG, legacy carmakers are seeking revenue from services like ride-sharing and to monetize car data as vehicle sales plateau in major markets like the U.S. They’re also facing challenges from upstarts like Tesla Inc.

Toyoda is also eying the evolving needs of rapidly aging populations in developed countries including Japan. One of the in-house companies that Toyoda introduced last year deals specifically with robots aimed at keeping people moving. The unit launched its first product, a walking rehabilitation robot, earlier this year. At the motor show, Toyota unveiled a wheelchair-accessible microcar and a Segway-like device that doesn’t require the rider to lean in order to turn.

“We have to make sure we can provide the appropriate mobility” for Japan’s elderly, Leroy said in an interview following the presentation. Giving people the freedom to move is “the best way to keep a young spirit.”