Toyota's focus on sports thrives despite bad economy
By TAKESHI OKADA / Staff Writer (The Asahi Shimbun)

Since Toyota Motor Corp.'s track and field club was founded in 1937, the company's sports teams have developed in tandem with the automaker's business. The company's influence in the Japanese sports world further expanded after Toyota Chairman Fujio Cho was appointed chairman of the Japan Sports Association in April.
Toyota continues to take on challenges even after reaching pinnacles in business and sports. One of those challenges was developing a website called Gazoo Sports last summer. The site was originally intended to contain information on Toyota vehicles, but it was re-arranged into a site where sports lovers can freely exchange information.
After registering with the website, users have gotten to know one another, formed baseball teams and have held practice sessions and games.
In the past, Toyota considered sports to have an internal purpose of raising employee morale. But now, the company has begun focusing on the external significance of promoting interaction between people and increasing fans of Toyota and its cars.
Even after the financial turmoil following the collapse of Lehman Brothers in autumn 2008, Toyota has not shut down any of its 35 sports clubs. This year, after the Great East Japan Earthquake, the automaker posted its first operating loss in two terms in its midterm consolidated earnings for the period ended September 2011. The business environment remains bleak due to the extreme appreciation of the yen and flooding in Thailand. Toyota's sports clubs may eventually be affected by these problems.
But Toyota Motor President Akio Toyoda says, "Our goals will not be raised unless we expand our sports field."
Toyota's top management considers sports a public asset, and has not forgotten how to deal with sports while observing the needs of society.