Toyota SA chairman and former CEO Dr Johan van Zyl (63) passed away from Covid-19 complications on Friday at a Pretoria hospital, the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of South Africa (Naamsa) has confirmed.
Van Zyl’s death represents another Covid-related loss for corporate South Africa in the wake of the pandemic, which has claimed more than 70 000 lives in the country to date.
His illustrious automotive industry career goes back more than 28 years, after being appointed director for vehicle sales and dealer network at Toyota Motors SA back in 1993. In 2002, Van Zyl was appointed president and COO of the group and in 2003 became CEO.
Known as “The Doc” more affectionately, Van Zyl was appointed by the Japanese-based Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC) as its Africa Region CEO in April 2013. And, in 2015 he took on the role of president and CEO of Toyota Motor Europe (TME) until his retirement earlier this year.
Van Zyl remained chairperson of Toyota SA until his death and played a major role in the company becoming one of the largest vehicle manufacturers on the African continent, with its expansive plant in Prospecton, Durban.
This saw him also playing a crucial role in the growth of the local automotive industry and being Naamsa president for two terms.
“The Doc – as he was affectionately known within the auto corridors, led the automotive industry with distinction as Naamsa president during the highs of the industry when domestic new vehicle sales, vehicle exports and vehicle production records were achieved in 2006/2007,” the automotive association said in a statement.
“He was also at the helm and a towering architect of the Automotive Production Development Programme [APDP] in 2013,” it added.
Toyota SA said in a statement that Van Zyl “had a profound impact on the Toyota Family”.
“The Doc … had an uncanny sense of knowing just what consumers want and he was able to instil this thinking in all his colleagues.”
In addition to his outstanding contribution to the growth of Toyota in SA and the expansion of the local automotive manufacturing industry, Toyota SA pointed out that Van Zyl “left an indelible mark” at TME too.
“Under his tenure, sales in Europe passed the one-million mark in 2019 for the first time in 10 years … On his return to South Africa (in April 2021), Dr van Zyl remained chairman of Toyota SA,” it said.
“But for all his successes in the corporate world, what The Doc will be remembered for the most was his humanity – his ability to remember the name of each and every person he came into contact with, his self-deprecating sense of humour that immediately put everyone at ease, and his comprehensive wealth of general knowledge,” Toyota SA added.
“We have lost a much-loved and admired leader who will be remembered for his leadership and success of both Toyota SA and Toyota Motor Europe,” said Andrew Kirby, current president and CEO of Toyota SA.
“He was also an amazing human being – for those of us who were fortunate to work closely with Johan, we will always remember him as an aspiring mentor, who had a story to share on any topic and who truly cared about people.
“His tireless efforts for our company, industry and country will be sorely missed,” added Kirby, who also extended the group’s sincere condolences to Van Zyl’s family.
Naamsa CEO Mikel Mabasa also hailed Van Zyl’s contribution to the industry and SA.
“Dr Van Zyl was an influential and impactful leader, not only in the automotive industry, but also in the country when he and a few other business leaders established the Public Private Growth Initiative, which brought together social partners to work much closer in resolving some of the country’s biggest socio-economic challenges,” he noted.
Van Zyl is survived by his wife Santie, daughters, Nadia and Karla, sons-in-laws and his grandchildren.