James Kuffner has disclosed that he will resign as the Chief Executive Officer at Woven by Toyota and hand the wheel to an automated driving veteran as the Japanese automaker readies the launch of a key operating system for cars.
Toyota, in announcing a wide-ranging organizational overhaul on Thursday, said Hajime Kumabe will take over as Woven’s CEO on October 1. Kumabe is currently CEO of J-QuAD Dynamics, an automated driving joint venture between several Toyota Group suppliers.
Kuffner, the American computer whiz who has led Toyota’s software subsidiary since 2018, will slide over to serve as a senior fellow at a newly created Software Development Center being set up inside Toyota to better coordinate the rollout of a critical automotive operating system around 2025.
The system, called Arene, is Toyota’s bid to introduce programmable, next-generation digital cars sometimes likened to smartphones on wheels. Toyota noted that the reorganization will strengthen ties with top supplier Denso to turbocharge the implementation phase of the upcoming software-defined vehicles running on Arene.
CEO Koji Sato plans to deploy Arene in vehicles from 2025 and introduce it in the company’s next-generation battery electric vehicle from 2026. Toyota expects the operating system to help reduce costs, improve customer value and speed the time to market for new models and updates.
Arene’s development has been spearheaded by Kuffner at Woven by Toyota, which changed its name from Woven Planet Holdings earlier this year.
At the newly created Software Development Center, Kuffner, 52, will be responsible for training future generations of in-house software coders at Toyota.
Woven by Toyota will continue its work on vehicle software, including systems that underpin automated driving, as well as on the development of social infrastructures for new mobility societies, as exemplified by its Woven City town-of-tomorrow project.
Hajime Kumabe to Resign on September 30
Kumabe will resign on September 30 from his post at J-QuAD Dynamics, a company founded in 2019 between Toyota suppliers Denso, Aisin, Advics and JTEKT. The company was formed to create integrated software-driven vehicle control systems.
Akihiro Sarada, currently the head of Toyota’s midsize vehicle unit, will become President of the new Software Development Center.
Sarada, a previous chief engineer of the Toyota Crown sedan, is known for his skill at cross-functional coordination and for having the trust and understanding of Chairman Akio Toyota from his work on cars with better driving dynamics. Toyota said better collaboration with Denso is a key goal of the reorganization.
As part of the change, Denso Chief Technology Officer Yoshifumi Kato will serve as an executive vice president at the Software Development Center, while keeping his current role at Denso.
Among other updates announced by Toyota, Julie Hamp – the former Toyota global chief communications officer who now serves as an advisor to Chairman Toyoda is identified as a board member of Woven by Toyota. She assumed that position earlier this year.
Kuffner, the goateed American computer guru who has led the high-tech company since its beginning, was taken off the board of directors at Toyota earlier this year.
Around that time, Woven by Toyota also got its latest new name. In January 2021, it dropped the name TRI-AD and adopted the name Woven Planet Holdings to reflect the interwoven world of modern mobility and hark back to Toyota’s corporate origins as a maker automatic looms. Woven by Toyota was selected to better leverage the Toyota brand.
As Toyota’s automated driving and artificial intelligence subsidiary, Woven is expected to play a critical role in making the Japanese carmaker’s vehicles faster to develop, less costly to build, more attractive to customers and better performing on the road. The lynchpin is an underlying operating system, now under development, called Arene. It will allow for “programmable cars.”
Woven Planet says Arene will be as groundbreaking as Microsoft Windows and Apple iOS were for personal computers and smartphones, ushering in a new era for automobiles. Executives say it will allow car software to be developed in parallel with hardware, slashing development time.