Toyota wants people to know it's more than a carmaker now

The logo of Toyota Motor Corp. is seen on a company's Corolla car in Caracas, Venezuela.
The logo of Toyota Motor Corp. is seen on a company's Corolla car in Caracas, Venezuela.PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (BLOOMBERG) - Toyota Motor wants the world to know that it is not a car manufacturer - it is 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 will 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, artificial intelligence-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 on Wednesday (Oct 25). "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 to Volkswagen, legacy carmakers are seeking revenue from services like ride-sharing and to monetise car data as vehicle sales plateau in major markets like the United States. They are also facing challenges from upstarts like Tesla.

Shares of Toyota rose 0.2 per cent in early trading in Tokyo on Thursday. While the stock is up only 1.7 per cent for the year, it has climbed 23 per cent from a low in April.

Toyoda is also eyeing the evolving needs of rapidly ageing 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 does not require the rider to lean in order to turn.

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