The first Dakar rally to be held in Saudi Arabia ended on Friday, and while Gazoo driver and F1 legend Fernando Alonso didn’t quite crack the top ten in his class, Toyota’s factory efforts largely killed it. Nasser Attiyeh and Matthieu Baumel were second-place finishers in their Hilux and the rest of the competitors driving for Toyota largely crushed it as well. Unsurprisingly, their efforts won them a heartfelt letter from the President of Toyota Akio Toyoda, who also signed as Morizo, Master Driver of Gazoo Racing.
In the letter Toyoda makes clear that he diligently followed the progress of his drivers, joking about an incident where Alonso’s truck lost its windshield as it rolled down a dune. He also went on to congratulate the Hino factory team on their victory in the 10-liter-and-under truck category as well as the Land Cruiser drivers for their 1-2 finish in the T2.2 production-based class. All-in-all, though Toyota didn’t bring home a win in the big categories, the showing was mighty impressive and it certainly makes sense that a guy like Toyoda, or, um, Morizo, would want to share in that glory.
But where did this Morizo name come from? Why not just sign it once, right? Seems crazy, no? I think it makes a lot of sense. Toyota is, probably above all else, a Very Serious Company. They do not joke around when it comes to industrial practices or their bread-and-butter product lines and the results have been clear, with Toyota growing its market share in Europe on the back of the introduction of the hybrid Camry and boosting Highlander production in Indiana with a $700 million plant investment. But amidst all this calculated strategy and focus on efficiency is Toyoda, scion to his family’s legacy and certified car nut.
Seriously. Toyoda is the real thing. He gets driven around in a Gazoo Racing-modified Century limousine. He drifts Toyota 86s. He races an endurance car at the Nürburgring and even finished third in his class last year. The reborn Toyota Supra has been his vision for nearly a decade. If you think Bob Lutz is the ultimate car guy in the industry, you better take another look at Akio and see if you still feel the same about the guy whose claim to fame is once rolling an Opel and lighting a cigar. Not that that’s lame at all.
But being the fourth-generation Toyoda to run the company, which began making looms in 1926, has the weight of the family name on his shoulders. With that kind of pressure, on him, Toyoda’s commitment to the car would as an enthusiast has always been difficult to jibe with his professional responsibilities. With an alter-ego, though, Toyoda can pursue his interest in motorsport and car culture to the fullest and still maintain stature as an important industry executive. In a way, having a racing name is a way to “take off” his professional persona and the heaviness of the carmaking industry when he’s on the track, or even just interacting with other enthusiasts online.
That’s right. “Morizo” first started as Toyoda’s pseudonym when blogging in “unofficial capacity” as early as 2011. Back then, Toyota was sly about confirming the badly kept secret that Morizo was, in fact, the big man up top, but when Toyoda got new business cards that year featuring his handle, the truth was out. Akio is Morizo, Morizo is Akio.
Coming clean let Toyoda get a little more involved in cultivating the Toyota’s official car culture cred. Back in 2017, he hosted an event alongside the Tokyo Motor Show, bringing out a host of interesting Toyotas from his personal collection, including an 86, a ‘70 Corolla 1600 GT, an Altezza, and a Lexus LF-A. It was the kind of event that only the president of a major automaker could pull off, and one that not many other auto executives would likely have the passion to put together.
And while I’m certainly impressed by Toyoda’s case of the “car sickness,” it kind of worries some of the more buttoned-down business journalists, who think that it could be a distraction from running the company. Speaking to Automotive News, one writer expressed some fear that Toyoda’s enthusiasm coupled to the power he yields as president of the company could turn him into “another Carlos Ghosn.” This was, of course, before Ghosn would make his flight from house arrest to Lebanon, so it’s unclear whether the journalist would still make the same assertion today.
Either way, that same profile in Automotive News also reminds readers that Toyoda and his father still retain a scant 1% or so of the company he runs, and that, compared with other Japanese executives, his hands are largely tied from making any rash decisions regarding the future of the company.
Still, I think that Morizo’s influence is nonetheless felt within the halls of Toyota, something which the last paragraph Toyoda’s letter to the Dakar team certainly suggests. In it, Toyoda makes clear that contributions from motorsport, from the curves of the Nürburgring to the dunes under the wheels of the Hiluxes at Dakar, will continue to make their mark on Toyota’s road cars. Lately, with products like the 2020 GR Yaris, the Lexus LF500, and, of course, the new Supra out there, it seems like Toyoda— sorry, Morizo— has managed to back that assertion up.