Incoming Toyota boss literally in the driving seat

Toyota Motor Corp has said that incoming president Akio Toyoda, the grandson of the company's founder, will be a driver on their team in a 24-hour endurance race in Germany.

Mr Toyoda, 52, was picked as president in January - an appointment viewed as symbolic of the Japanese carmaker's determination to ride out the global slump and what is expected to be its first annual loss in nearly 60 years.

The grandson of Toyota founder Kiichiro Toyoda is one of four drivers on a Toyota team entering the May 21-24 Nurburgring 24-hour endurance race in Germany, company spokesman Paul Nolasco said today.

The race is an opportunity to test the reliability of products in development, and Mr Toyoda will be racing in the Lexus LF-A, which also entered the same race last year, he said.

"It's designed to be a sporty car. We put our prototype to a test," said Mr Nolasco.

Last year, the Lexus LF-A finished seventh in its class, and was 121st among 150 cars that finished from 216 vehicles that started.

The US-educated Mr Toyoda is the first founding family member to take helm at the world's biggest carmaker in 14 years. A return to its roots is considered an effective way to rally the rank and file, as well as its dealers, during troubled times.

The founder's family name is spelled with a "d," but the company's name was changed to read Toyota as that was considered luckier according to Japanese superstition, Toyota said.

His appointment as president must be confirmed by a shareholders meeting in June, which is widely expected to endorse the board's selection.

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