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'Start Your Impossible' - Toyota's new campaign shows future of the automaker

2017-10-18 11:28

Image: Motorpress

Alex Parker

Tokyo -  Toyota on Monday announced a new campaign – Start Your Impossible – that is linked to its association with the Paralympics and the Olympics. It is, in the busy rush of life, something you might not pay too much attention to.

That would be a mistake.

Start Your Impossible is an invitation for people around the world to share what supposedly impossible thing it is they’d like to achieve, and to use a website to reach out to others trying to achieve the same thing, or something similar.

Connect customers

Piggybacking off the extraordinary stories shared by various Paralympian athletes at the Toyota Mobility Summit, held in Athens, Greece, on Monday (October 16), Toyota wants the campaign to connect customers, employees and the world at large to its core beliefs.

And that’s the point – those beliefs, those core values are what is interesting to motor industry watchers, because in announcing this campaign and the values and strategic future planning associated with it, Toyota has explicitly said that it is no longer a car company.

In doing so, Toyota is joining other big car companies in expressing what it can about its strategic response to the rapid technological change, with all its implications, that are sweeping the industry – and that are drawing in disruptive new players such as Tesla, Apple and Google.

A clue to that direction lies in that Start Your Impossible wasn’t launched at some super-glitzy event with the kind of razzmatazz you’re used to in the motor industry. In fact it was announced at the inaugural Toyota Mobility Summit.

'Toyoda's own impossible'

Additionally, the website they’ve created for the Start Your Impossible campaign, mobilityforall.com isn’t a hard sell.

Introduced by Akio Toyoda himself via live video link, Mobilityforall.com is currently little more than a statement, an embodiment of Mr Toyoda’s own “impossible”.

And that “impossible” is mobility for all. A great deal of the summit was spent discussing the value that mobility brings to people’s lives. Obviously, with Toyota’s partnership with the Paralympic committee, disabled people featured strongly in these conversations – and technological solutions that will help disabled people achieve not only mobility, but also a certain level of dignity.

An example was the iBot, a smart electric wheelchair that can navigate steps, kerbs and certain staircases and, for when people are standing and having conversations can – in a way that seems almost miraculous – lift the person in the chair to eye-height by twisting its entire chassis end over end, and balancing on the remaining two wheels like a Segway.

But Dr Gill Pratt, the CEO of the Toyota Research Institute (TRI), also revealed that aging societies in the developed world will have different mobility requirements and the Toyota-designed Human Support Robot is part of that. It’s a robot that can at present perform simple tasks, such as picking things up off the floor and passing drinks, but TRI is working with AI to work in the future on a robot that will be able to learn the requirements of its owner/user.

Image: Motorpress


But Gill’s real passion is for road safety. His “impossible”? Zero road deaths – and he’s heading up the research team that’s pouring research into making that happen.

I quizzed him about accessibility for developing markets, and he was clear that much of the work they’re doing is unrelated to infrastructure-dependent technology associated with autonomous driving, but related to how cars avoid each other, or diminish the severity of collisions.

At the same time, we were introduced to staffers from the Toyota Mobility Foundation, that is working to create systems and technology that will ease traffic congestion by working with governments across the world.

Unknown future

A much-repeated sentiment from the summit was a general acceptance that the future is largely unknown, and unknowable. Toyota is throwing resources at trying to define what it might be, and by committing itself to mobility for all, it is of course looking at new philosophies and new ideas – but critically, of course, new markets too.

When older people stop driving they can’t own a Toyota any more. When people are disabled to an extent that they cannot drive, at the moment they are unable to own a Toyota. When people die in unnecessary technologically avoidable car crashes, they can obviously no longer own a Toyota. Children cannot travel in a Toyota alone. By working to – in their words – improve mobility for more people than now have access to it, Toyota is quite obviously looking after itself too.

Throw in their ongoing work to electrify the future, and to rethink what mobility means, what ownership models might look like, and how to thrash out issues of liability and so on in an autonomous future and what you have is what used to be a car company that appears to be embracing the very uncertainty of the future.

Nothing will happen overnight, of course. Next year there will be a new Auris and the big car-making machine will grind on. But it’s worth watching Toyota.

Akio Toyoda has a history of shaking up his company – and it seems likely that his reimagining of it as a provider of mobility for all will have profound long-term implications for not only the company, but for the industry at large. 

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