Akio Toyoda, president of the world’s biggest car maker Toyota, has flown home after his whirlwind visit to Australia, a place he labelled the “perfect testing ground” for vehicle development.
News broke last week of Toyoda’s mystery visit to local shores, the first since February when he personally informed staff at the Altona factory in Melbourne’s west that the plant would shut from the end of 2017.
The company’s global chief journeyed here for the final stages of a 20,000km, 10-week driving project across Australia, designed to put various company staffers (such as engineers) through their paces, with the hope of refining their skills to develop even tougher next-generation models.
Existing Toyota cars served as transport, with various models from Corollas and LandCruisers being used at stages in the journey from Melbourne to Perth, and up through the red centre and the Simpson desert back to the eastern coast.
Above: Akio Toyoda with Tommi Makinen.
Toyoda — known for being an accomplished enduro racer himself — even participated personally by driving an 86 rally car near Coffs Harbour.
The unique TGR86X rally car features a roll cage, all-wheel drive, sequential gearbox and turbo-charged engine fitted with an anti-lag system, and was developed in cahoots with WRC legend Tommi Makinen and Gazoo Racing.
Toyoda later called the total company experience a valuable one that would change the way company engineers went about their business.
“It was a perfect testing ground as Australian roads represent 80 per cent of the world’s driving conditions,” he said.
“Throughout the entire project, each and every member of the team was able to learn new things from listening to the cars and roads.
“In fact, after driving on so many roads, our team members’ expectations for future test-car courses will never be the same because of all the stark realities that they experienced.”
Mr Toyoda said these included being forced to change five tyres on a single day, driving over severely corrugated surfaces, and at one point having to change the planned route due to bushfires.
“Touring Australia reminded us that cars are vital partners in our lives. Any breakdown in the outback has the potential to be fatal.
“I am confident that our engineers will use the knowledge they have gained on this drive to create ever-better cars for customers. We can’t wait to share these new cars with you, and the lessons we have learned, in the near future.”