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Comment: Redemption is sweet for Toyota's family chairman

Six months ago Toyota chairman Akio Toyoda looked like he would have to do the corporate equivalent of hari kari, writes Marc Smith. 

The car company he leads was reeling after a series of scandals, including a range of lawsuits filed following the global recall of more than 8.5 million vehicles in the last 12 months. Toyota had also posted its first financial loss in 59 years on his watch.

The only way out appeared to be resignation, but now things look considerably more rosy for the 54-year-old great-grandson of Toyota's founder.

The lawsuits related to a range of problems, such as sudden unintended acceleration, which led to serious injury of some drivers. However, this week the US Transportation Department revealed that driver error may have been at fault in more than half of the crashes blamed on acceleration.

Toyoda could be forgiven for having a rye smile. He was forced to appear at congressional hearings in the US and portrayed as the head of a business that was endangering the lives of "ordinary folk".

Moreover, the company announced last week that it had sold 419,000 more vehicles in Q1 2010 compared to the same period last year. Net revenues for Q1 2010 were up 27%, to 4,871.8 billion yen, while net income increased to 190.4 billion yen after a loss of 77.8 billion yen for Q1 2009.

Toyoda said: "Returning to the black so quickly bodes well as we try and foresee what the next hundred years holds for the automotive industry and devise strategies for future growth."

He drew a line in the sand last month when he announced a fresh start for the company in an address entitled "Contributing to society through automobiles and services."

Echoing family-controlled Ford's emphasis on new technologies, he announced a tie-up with US-based electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla Motors to develop electric vehicles.

The move confirms Toyota as one of the leading proponents of clean technology in the automobile industry. The company is well known for developing hybrid vehicles, including its Prius model, which has now sold in excess of 2.5 million units globally.

Toyoda said: "Initiating a once-in-a-century turning point in technology cannot be done by a large corporation like Toyota alone; it also requires the spirit, quick decision-making and flexibility of a venture capital company."

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