Why Morizo and Toyota GR are true automotive icons – Feature

There are no two ways about it, Toyota is a global automotive juggernaut. The brand has consistently taken on established names and has dominated sales for decades.

Growing up a Filipino car guy meant that I had first-hand experience with just how influential and beloved the brand is but as the years kept going the brand’s iconic image like anything else was up and down. The exciting models like the Supra, AE86, MR2, and Celica (just to name a few) were slowly killed off in favor of more everyday vehicles, in other words, the bean counters had taken over somewhat.

The Toyota vehicles I grew up with were reliable, dependable, and basically indestructible. Sales remained strong but the brand’s reputation hinged purely on the aforementioned traits, which aren’t bad but the main question that took decades to answer was “Are Toyotas also desirable?”

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Akio Toyoda

Enter Akio Toyoda a direct descendant of the original founding family, who when the time came was handed the proverbial baton to take his family’s mega-corporation into the future. At the time he came on as the “main man” in 2009, the automotive industry was in flux with global warming and carbon emissions becoming an issue that would influence how cars were made.

Hybrids and even EVs were suddenly becoming priorities for all automotive brands, and enthusiast gas-burning and earth-warming vehicles were becoming less and less. In other words, Akio-san was thrust into a new world order for the industry his family had been dominating for years.

What has been apparent though is how this man did not crack under the pressure, in fact, it seems he has thrived on it. Toyota is one of the pioneering (and leading) manufacturers of Hybrid Electric Vehicles and has taken a very pragmatic approach to sustainable mobility. Instead of going deep into EVs, the brand believes that hybrids and other forms of propulsion like hydrogen are the ‘gateway drugs’ to a proper integration of a carbon-free motoring world.

If there’s a key moment for Akio it would be around 2010 when a quality control issue plagued the brand and a high of 8.5 Million models were due for recall for certain safety issues in North America. These were truly trying times, and yet faced with adversity Akio himself appeared and testified in front of the US House of Representatives to personally apologize to the public saying he was “deeply sorry” and vowed that the brand would be even better. This is an insight into how this man knew he was accountable for the missteps of that time, I’m not sure any other high-ranking automotive executive would go to those lengths to face the music so to speak.

So far Akio-san has done well in leading his company, he could sit back relax, and ride the wave until his successor comes but no, Akio is no normal executive, Akio has passion, and Akio LOVES CARS…

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Morizo and GR

As mentioned earlier, even before Akio took over the brand Toyota had a lot of fun models that were sadly discontinued. Akio though is a true car nut, a man who loves getting behind the wheel and ‘giving it some beans’. He is personally involved with the brand’s resurgence in terms of bringing back the spice to the Toyota lineup, the Gazoo Racing brand is his baby that he nurtured and developed into one of the most revered performance brands today.

He gave the green light to develop and create the now famous GR Yaris, he was personally vested in the development keeping a careful eye on making sure it was something he and enthusiasts like him would love. Not only that, but he also got himself trained by master Japanese drivers to take on some of the most grueling motorsport races under the alias “Morizo”.

This has translated into a motorsports world where Toyota is not just a competitor but a front-runner in disciplines like Rallying, Endurance racing, and NASCAR.

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Toyota GR madness

Fast forward to now, and Toyota Motor Philippines decided to celebrate its 35th anniversary with a bang of an event; the 2023 edition of the Gazoo Racing (GR) Festival. Of course, no GR event would truly ever be complete without Morizo present, and because he loves cars he flew himself all the way to our tiny archipelago to partake in the activities.

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While he could’ve easily just attended and given token speeches to commemorate the event, Akio decided to donne his Morizo persona and put on a show for everyone. This 67-year-old businessman walked the talk and put on a show for the ages, he got into a WRC GR Yaris with 380 HP and started doing donuts and drifting exhibitions right in the heart of Manila in scorching Philippine heat.

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It would be understandable if he had just done one round, but he enjoyed himself so much that he kept coming out of the pit area to drive the pants off these cars he envisioned and birthed into life. All while working the crowd by waving, screaming, and a smile that beamed all around the grandstands. Mind you, Morizo is no slouch this man can drive, his honed skills could make any ‘seasoned’ racer blush in comparison.

All because, like he screamed at the top of his lungs all throughout the event “I love cars!”

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I have always admired Toyota and what they stand for, I myself am a Toyota owner but my 3-day experience with GR and Morizo himself has made me a proud owner. I was not expecting to be in complete awe of the man, but his sheer passion and love for automobiles make him a true magnetic automotive icon.

I’m used to idolizing race car drivers and such, but Morizo’s dedication to pushing the limits for better truly shows. He put his money where his mouth is and has given the automotive world reasons to rejoice despite an uncertain future bleakly painted by an energy and environmental crisis.

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He is currently running a new program where the GR race cars are being powered by hydrogen, thus keeping the exciting loud noises that a race engine makes as opposed to the quietness of EV-powered race cars. Rowan Atkinson of Mr. Bean fame is a proud GR Yaris owner and was in fact given the prestigious opportunity to drive a Hydrogen GR Yaris race car up the 2023 Goodwood Festival of Speed hillclimb.

Morizo is a man hellbent on keeping cars fun, accessible, and desirable without the negative effects of the old-world combustion engine, and for that I truly admire him.

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Yes, this article is an ode to Morizo, a man flying head-on into the automotive unknown with unmatched energy, a smile on his face, and a mission to create cars he and the whole world would love to own and drive.

A true icon needs to leave a lasting impression, and his brief stint in Manila has left a lasting one on this budding automotive journalist. Thank you Morizo, and Godspeed on your mission, I have never been more proud to be a patron of your great brand.

Pablo Salapantan

Pablo Salapantan

Pablo's first word was probably "Car", and this has developed into a personal passion that has consumed his professional life as well.

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