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Ex-Toyota Europe CEO van Zyl dies at age 63

Johan van Zyl, the former president and CEO of Toyota Europe, died Friday in his native South Africa. He was 63.

The cause was related to COVID-19 complications, according to people familiar with the matter.

The automaker said Saturday he would be remembered for his humor, calmness and personal empathy.

Van Zyl led Toyota’s European operations, which include Russia, Turkey, Israel and central Asian countries, from 2015 until April, when he was succeeded by sales and marketing chief Matthew Harrison.

Under van Zyl’s strategic and operational leadership, Toyota Europe delivered sustained business results, with sales passing the one-million mark in 2019 for the first time in 10 years and market share exceeding 6 percent in 2020.

Toyota was a leader in CO2 emissions with a lineup of hybrid powertrains that was expanded under van Zyl. During his tenure, the automaker expanded its production sites and added products in Russia, Poland, Turkey and France. Toyota took sole ownership of a joint venture plant with PSA Group in Kolin, Czech Republic, in January.  

Van Zyl announced in 2018 that Toyota would discontinue diesel powertrains from the automaker’s passenger car lineup, with the exception of the Land Cruiser large SUV and the Hilux pickup.

In leaving Toyota Europe, van Zyl said: “What I am most satisfied about is the very strong team we have here in Europe. With such great people across the Toyota European organization, with such talent and passion, there won’t be any disruption in the transformation we have embarked upon, and I have no doubt Toyota will do very well under Matt’s [Harrison] leadership.”

Harrison said recently that he saw no reason to sharply change course as CEO of Toyota Europe.

“I’ve worked incredibly closely with van Zyl for the last few years,” Harrison told Automotive News Europe in an interview. “So, I would like to think I have already had a lot of opportunity to offer input into our strategy, and I didn’t feel the need to scrap everything anything and rebuild. That element of my strategy was more about a seamless transition and continuity.”