Hiroshi Okuda isn't your typical Japanese senior executive. He's gregariously blunt, openly competitive and, comparatively, a radical in corporate Japan. Those reasons alone make competitors take notice as Mr. Okuda assumes the presidency of Toyota Motor Corp., the world's third-biggest and - by consensus - best automaker. But if prognosticators are correct and Mr. Okuda cuts costs, speeds development of products, elevates younger talent and instills in Toyota a global persona rather than a homebound one, rivals may suffer ulcers. That's what happens when the best gets better.

Mr. Okuda earned his senior management spurs in the Philippines and at Toyota's Oceania Pacific Div. He has prepared the ground for plants in North America and Taiwan. Much like the trio of CEOs now running the American Big Three, Mr. Okuda's views and automotive experience are global. A rejuvenated, refocused Toyota with global operating experience at the top and an estimated $43 billion in liquid assets spells trouble for competitors.