Author: D. P. | Read time: 7 minutes
We are less than one year away from the biggest sports event in the world, Paris 2024 Olympic & Paralympic Games. We talked to Cedric Borremans, Head of Olympics & Paralympics Division at Toyota Motor Europe, who shared with us insights behind the partnership, the influence of the “Start Your Impossible” campaign, transformation into a mobility company, his views on the future of mobility and expectations before Paris 2024, where Toyota will play an important part as the contributor of sustainable and inclusive mobility solutions. Cedric believes that mobility should be an enabler and he is looking forward to the spectacular opening ceremonies on the river Seine and in the Paris city centre.
SPORTO: Toyota became TOP Partner of the International Olympic Committee and Worldwide Paralympic Partner in 2015 with the “Start Your Impossible” message at the core. How did you see the Olympic & Paralympic journey for the brand and the company?
Cedric Borremans: From the brand perspective, this was the first time that Toyota made a worldwide campaign. The message through “Start Your Impossible” resonated so well across the different regions of the world that everybody adopted it. In the past, each distributor was usually adapting the regional campaigns to the local market.
For the brand, it was important to position ourselves as a mobility company through the campaign claim, but also as a company that gets inspired by the athletes and para-athletes, who were in the centre of the communication. Above all, the genuine message that Toyota tried to bring through “Start Your Impossible” was to put the message itself – together with the athletes, not the cars – at the centre. The biggest win of this partnership for me was that this message was well understood and embraced also with dealers.
Using “Start Your Impossible” was also the message of transforming Toyota into a mobility company and telling the world that mobility is not just about cars but also about solutions for people that mobility constraints. And that’s why our Chairman (at that time the President) Akio Toyoda said: “If you are free to move, anything is possible. You can realise your dreams.”
That is how “Start Your Impossible” generated a double message – for the brand but also internally – to transform as a company. If (para)athletes can do it with their “never give up” mentality, than there is no excuse for Toyota employees not to achieve the vision to become a mobility company.
How did the “Start Your Impossible” philosophy impact the whole organization in recent years? Are there some local market activations you can point out?
“Start Your Impossible” and the Olympic/Paralympic partnership was as much the internal wake-up call as the brand campaign. There was a message to all Toyota employees where Akio Toyoda asked: “What is your Start Your Impossible?”, so that we as employees would also take this opportunity. Internally across offices, we also started to use the tagline when approaching bigger challenges.
Connected to local activations… In some markets the distributor created a paralympic fund and all the retailers are pitching in. In the US, 95% of the Paralympians who went to Beijing were founded by the Toyota headquarters as well as the retailers. Toyota Germany and TMG, together with Andrea Eskau, one of the excellent para-athletes, worked on the improvements for her hand bike. In France, we had an example of a dealer who started a cooperation with blind cyclists. This kind of activities Toyota did not impose, that came naturally from dealers, distributors or employees.
All company employees in Europe were invited to join Toyota’s ”Start Your Impossible” app with the aim to make a difference for themselves, their colleagues and society at large.
The “Start Your Impossible” app was another example of employee initiative that seemed impossible at first. It seemed impossible to communicate the project to all our employees and retailers, but now we will have 4,000 employees from all over Europe coming to the Paralympic Games in Paris. It’s about the mindset shift – let’s not typically make barriers but instead find ways to break down the barriers on the way. The same applies for the mobility. Mobility should not be a barrier. It should be an enabler.
What are the biggest opportunities and challenges when working with the Olympic & Paralympic movement for the company?
The biggest opportunity is the ability to get in touch with the athletes, to understand their own story and get inspired by them. This has been the biggest reward of the partnership. Without that, we wouldn’t understand the challenges. Through the Paralympic partnership, we started focusing much more on the mobility for all, also on the 15% of the people with disabilities of any kind. Searching and finding mobility solutions for different situations is the biggest take-out for Toyota.
The biggest challenge is that every Games have different Organising Committees. We are used to Kaizen (step-by-step) improvements and that is difficult at the Olympics since each Organising Committee is local – they want to have different and better Games than the previous and they come with a different set of backgrounds. For us as a mobility partner (and mobility being a crucial point of the Games for the stakeholders), we thought we could build on the previous Games, and this is very challenging due to some constraints.
Paris 2024 is approaching. For Toyota Motor Europe, this will be its “home” Games. How are the preparations going?
We cannot say that we are ready, it’s too early, but we will be ready. It’s been challenging, but this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. There is no guidebook how to do this. We try to be proactive and try to anticipate, at the same time we try not to forget why we are there in the first place – to support the athletes. So, let’s find solutions that will make life of the athletes easier. In October, we will announce what Toyota will bring to the Paris 2024 Olympics and Paralympics. I can’t get into the details yet, but the mobility of the athletes is at the core of what we do. Especially for the Paralympic athletes, we want them to have the same freedom of movement in their village and at the competition sites as the Olympians have.
“Start Your Impossible” is about the mindset shift – let’s not typically make barriers but instead find ways to break down the barriers on the way. The same applies for the mobility. Mobility should not be a barrier. It should be an enabler.
Toyota is on the way of transforming from a car manufacturer to a mobility company. How do you see the future of mobility (from the perspective of Toyota and in general)?
We could debate about this topic for hours and days. At Toyota, we always say that we don’t know which technology will be “the one”, we believe it will be based on customer needs and that’s why we are offering different technologies: hybrid, plug-in, battery electric and hydrogen. My personal impression is that the future will be a combination of many things. Autonomous drive will be there for long distances, cities – European cities are old from the architectural point of view – will have the challenge to evolve and merge different types of mobility in a peaceful and harmonized way. The pandemic accelerated cycling, but we also have a step-back with the banning of e-scooters in some cities. At Toyota, we are setting up a laboratory in Woven City to understand how different types of mobility live together.
We will also move to a more and more personalized and shared mobility in the cities, where people will not own the cars anymore but rent them when needed. The mix of a shared and private ownership will be the biggest challenge. Nobody cracked all the solutions, so that makes the field super exciting.
Sustainability is one of the key pillars of the Olympic Agenda 2030 and Toyota works closely with the organizers also on this important topic. What of it will be seen in Paris 2024?
From the sustainability point of view, Paris 2024 has the goal of a 50% reduction of CO2 compared to the London and Rio Olympics. We want to contribute both with our fleet (for the first time completely electrified) and with zero or close to zero emissions with guests, employees transport and in whatever we do. The mindset to reduce the emissions has stimulated the company and all the partners. We decided to challenge ourselves to make exchange pins for Paris based on a recycled Yaris and we used Yaris’ roof panel as material. That’s just an example of how this is stimulating the company to go further.
Through the Paralympic partnership, we started focusing much more on the mobility for all, also on the 15% of the people with disabilities of any kind. Searching and finding mobility solutions for different situations is the biggest take-out for Toyota.
Hydrogen is an important pillar for clean mobility in the future. The key message of your talk at the Logiconomi Forum was that “we are not dreaming of the hydrogen society … the applications are already here and ready to be deployed to contribute to a better society.” Could you summarize the company’s current developments and plans with hydrogen, also for Paris 2024?
We developed fuel cell initially for Mirai. In Europe, we have been very early in making investments in EODev (Energy Observer Developments), which has used our fuel cell, and makes hydrogen generators. Now in the city centres, you can have road works with zero emission and zero noise with a hydrogen generator. The same applies for events, so we really believe this is going to be the future. Our vision with the fuel cell is to create partnerships in which other companies use our knowledge to speed up decarbonization in the world.
Luxury sailing used to be very green, now sailing is not so green due to diesel generators onboard, and hydrogen can solve this. But the biggest focus for Toyota is the heavy-duty transport – trucks, buses … Toyota believes this will be the quickest and most needed implication of hydrogen due to long distances and short refueling times. There is also a lot of opportunities with commercial vehicles, like taxis. We try to go further, talking about the lunar rover for the Japan space agency as an extreme example, but almost anything from small to big can use hydrogen in order to complement battery electric. In Paris, we would like to show what the hydrogen ecosystem looks like and that the hydrogen society already exists, it is diversified and useful.
What are your personal expectations before Paris 2024? Which competitions are you most looking for and do you know any Slovenian athletes?
After the Tokyo and Beijing Games, where the atmosphere was affected by the Covid pandemic, I believe Paris will represent a big celebration for the public, already with the opening ceremonies on the Seine river (Olympics) and at the Place de la Concorde and the Champs-Élysées (Paralympics). It will be something unique for athletes and public to experience the opening ceremonies outside the stadium. Both opening ceremonies will also be important from the Toyota’s contribution point of view.
From the sustainability point of view, Paris 2024 has the goal of a 50% reduction of CO2 compared to the London and Rio Olympics. We want to contribute both with our fleet and with zero or close to zero emissions with guests, employees transport and in whatever we do.
I had the pleasure to attend two test events, triathlon and archery, and I believe that the images from the competitions will be amazing. The locations at the historical sites in the city centre will offer a picturesque backdrop, and the social media with Instagram and TikTok will explode. What is also important is that Tony Estanguet, the President of Paris 2024, really wants to put the athletes at the centre, in a union with the audience.
On a personal note, as a Belgian, I am big fan of cycling. Of course, I know the excellence of Primož Roglič and Tadej Pogačar, but we have Wout van Aert and Remco Evenepoel – I lived in Belgium in the same town as him – so I hope one of the two will win the gold medal.
I also know Janja Garnbret; I watched her win the gold medal in Tokyo, at the historic event for sports climbing, which I find a modern and super interesting sport.