“It’s a real pity,” said Hiroshi Yokoyama, group manager of brand management at Toyota’s Gazoo Racing Co., the motorsports unit that oversaw the drive program. “But because of the coronavirus, we had no choice.”

Yet, even as Toyota’s drive came to an inglorious close, Japan’s biggest automaker is busy keeping its spirit alive. Now comes phase two: Compiling lessons learned and parlaying them into building vehicles that better fit the world’s diverse markets and customers.

The 111,500-kilometer (69,000-mile) Five Continents Drive was the brainchild of President Akio Toyoda in an effort to instill his oft-touted “ever-better cars” mentality across the company. According to Toyoda, roads teach the people, and the people make the cars.

“You’ve experienced the road, the cars and the people who use them with your own senses,” he told returnees after the 2017 drive. “Don’t rely solely on data. I want you to take what you felt with your own senses, take the true essence of things, and use it to make ever-better cars.”

The program took hundreds of Japanese employees of Toyota and local affiliates and shipped them around the world to drive each continent’s roads over several years. The adventure kicked off in 2014 with Australia, then moved through North America, Latin America, Europe and Africa. Last year, Toyota drove Asia, from the Middle East to India and Southeast Asia.

In 2020, Toyota targeted China, South Korea, Mongolia and Taiwan before returning to Japan to converge on Tokyo in August for the Olympics and Paralympics. But when COVID-19 struck, that last leg was canceled before it even began.