three executives walked into the Tokyo office of Toyota Motor Corp. President Akio Toyoda with a call for a radical change. Toyota, they believed, needed to embrace the goal of building cars that could drive themselves, possibly without drivers—something Mr. Toyoda, a race-car enthusiast who likes his hands and feet on the controls, had long resisted.
The three faced Mr. Toyoda in the office, which one of them recalled felt like a teenage boy’s room, sporting minicars and race helmets. They were ready to spend a long time to persuade the boss.
But he had already come around.
“You guys are overthinking this,” one of the participants recalled Mr. Toyoda saying. “Our goal is to make sure everyone can move around freely.”
“I personally went through a big change in my thinking,” said Mr. Toyoda in an interview at this week’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit. His epiphany came more than a year earlier when he met Paralympics athletes who wanted to ride in fashionable cars, he said, conceding it was much later that he communicated his change of heart.