What can Joseph Schooling teach Toyota?

Can Toyota’s “Start Your Impossible” initiative give it the same drive to succeed that Olympic athletes have?

SINGAPORE — Toyota’s new global marketing campaign got off the ground in Asia today, with a little help from, among others, Olympics swimmer Joseph Schooling.

The campaign is centred around “Start Your Impossible”, a tagline that’s part-advertising slogan and part-corporate war cry. It was inspired by the carmaking giant’s sponsorship of the Olympic and Paralympic Games for eight years.

Susumu Matsuda (pictured above), the head of Toyota Motor Asia Pacific (TMAP), describes “Start Your Impossible” as a “movement to inspire Toyota employees, our partners and customers.”

It’s also meant to draw attention to the company’s efforts to create what it sees as a more inclusive and sustainable society, which means one in which everyone is mobile.

“In this society we would love to see everyone have an equal chance to challenge themselves and be able to achieve their dreams,” says Hao Quoc Tien, the executive vice president of TMAP.

Toyota launched more than the slogan today. Mr Matsuda unveiled Team Toyota Hero Athletes, a dozen-strong troupe of Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls from around the region who will receive Toyota backing.

Among them is Schooling (above), who won Singapore’s first Olympic gold medal at the Rio games in 2016 and followed it up by taking home several gold medals at this year’s Asian Games.

Swimmer Toh Wei Soong, who won two gold medals and a silver at the ninth Asean Para Games last year and brought home a bronze medal at this year’s Commonwealth Games, was also unveiled as a member.

The company is pledging to support the 12 athletes in their sporting goals but also to back their chosen social causes; Schooling intends to raise road safety awareness while Toh is advocating for equal opportunities.

Toyota believes the athletes’ struggle for sporting success is symbolic of its own drive to overcome the tough conditions that all major carmakers face in the future: increasing hostility to fossil fuel power, the race to perfect self-driving technology, and shrinking desire for car ownership in the developed world.

TMAP’s Mr Hao says Start Your Impossible is meant to galvanise Toyota employees for nothing less than a change in its corporate philosophy and a different way of doing business. “This is the start of the change of our company from a car company to a mobility company,” he says.

Some of what that actually means will be showcased at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Guests in the Athlete Village will be able to hop aboard the e-Palette, a self-driving electric vehicle, says Mr Matsuda.

The company will supply of fleet of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles made up of its Mirai sedans and Sora buses, to exemplify its bet that the technology will eventually emerge as the replacement for petrol and diesel engines.

Security staff at the Games will get around on board the Toyota i-Road, a two-seat electric vehicle with a 50km battery range and 60km/h top speed — TMAP shipped one unit of the three-wheeler in so guests could try it out at the launch.

Also at the launch was a Toyota Vellfire Welcab, a version of its luxury multi-purpose vehicle with a seat that pivots out of the car to make ingress easier.

Much further from company’s core business was its Human Support Robot, a machine designed to assist the elderly. It can pick things up off the floor, retrieve items from shelves and perform other tasks to help with daily life. At the launch it delivered TMAP chief Mr Matsuda a bottle of water.

Toyota has been working on such robots for six years now, and sees them as an aid to “indoor mobility”.

That gives you some idea of how broadly the company has had to define the concept of mobility, as it works to reinvent itself for an uncertain future.

Yet, being a plain old-fashioned car company has been stupendously good for Toyota. Last year Japan’s leading carmaker took in revenues of 29.4 trillion Yen (S$362 billion), with 2.6 trillion in net income.

While Toyota is unlikely to “just walk away” from that, says Mr Hao, the company has to evolve to navigate a changing landscape whether it wants to or not. Congestion and pollution threaten to make a new generation of urban dwellers turn away from car ownership, he says, and Toyota will have to become a service provider to stay relevant.

Whether Toyota can be as successful as a mobility company as it has been as a hardware provider is less certain. Some might even call it impossible, but based on its new slogan, the company is making an Olympian effort at it.

READ MORE > Is the Toyota i-Road the answer to Singapore’s car-lite needs?


about the author

Leow Ju-Len
Leow Ju-Len is a lot older than he behaves. He's been writing about cars for 23 years. Someday he might do it coherently. Ju-Len believes in world peace and V8s, but not necessarily in that order.