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.”
The average age of vehicles on U.S. roadways rose to a record 12.1 years last year, as lofty prices and improved quality prompt owners to hold on to their cars longer.
It was the first time the average vehicle age rose above 12 years, according to data released Monday by research firm IHS Markit. While the average vehicle age has risen steadily over the last 15 years, the trend accelerated during the coronavirus pandemic partly because of a drop in new-car sales, IHS said.
The finding reflects the stronger value of vehicles throughout their life cycles, from higher new-vehicle prices Americans have been paying for years to steeper prices on the used-car lot, said Todd Campau, associate director of aftermarket solutions at IHS. Improved vehicle quality also is a factor, he said.
Whereas 20 years ago a car might have changed hands once or twice and lasted 100,000 miles, it is more common today for a car to have multiple owners and last for 200,000 miles or more, he said.
“That has extended the life cycle of the vehicle and created value for more buyers up and down the chain,” Mr. Campau. “For that second or third or fourth owner, there’s still meat on the bone.”
The rise in average vehicle age doesn’t necessarily mean Americans are forgoing new-vehicle purchases and making do with their current cars longer, Mr. Campau said. New-vehicle sales have been running at a record or near-record pace for years, with the exception of a short-lived drop in the early months of the pandemic last year.
Instead, since cutting back in the financial crisis, more consumers have been adding to their number of household vehicles—buying a third car for the family instead of getting by on two, for example, Mr. Campau said. The total number of vehicles in operation in the U.S. has risen about 10% since 2013, to around 279 million, according to IHS.
The lengthening vehicle age presents an opportunity for dealerships and other companies that sell aftermarket parts for vehicle repairs, such as brakes and tires, Mr. Campau said. Also, more companies are offering aftermarket products to upgrade infotainment systems and other technology in cars, giving owners of older vehicles the ability to connect their phones to the dashboard touch screen, for example.
As cars stay on the roads longer, auto makers are looking to offer digital services and features after the sale to generate recurring revenue, such as adding new apps to multimedia systems or new convenience features such as hands-free driving in some situations.
Motor Co. Chief Executive
has said he wants the company to have an “always-on” connection to Ford’s customers and break the traditional model of selling a car and simply waiting a few years before the owner returns for an upgrade.
“Like with your phone, there will be new features added every hour, every day,” Mr. Farley said in an interview last month. “I think that’s where the real competitive race is.”
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