A Bright Path Ahead - Toyota National Dealer Meeting shows pride in today, optimism for tomorrow
Akio Toyoda’s entrance to the Toyota National Dealer Meeting in Las Vegas was the definition of Waku Doki.
The Toyota Motor Corporation President emerged from a red FT-1 Concept, and then titillated the dealers with the car that’s been the buzz of the auto industry since its debut in Detroit back in January.
“Should we make it?” Toyoda asked to a round of affirmative cheers. “Can you sell it? Well I can’t say for sure if this concept will go into production. But what I am sure of is that this is what Toyota looks like to me.”
Toyoda’s point was clear: Toyota’s future is in heart-pounding, fun-to-drive cars.
“I’m determined to put a little bit of this FT-1 into every car we produce,” he said. “Because even a Sienna needs some sex appeal, don’t you think?”
Indeed, this dealer meeting was an unabashed celebration of Toyota’s newfound sex appeal, its status as the country’s No. 1 retail automaker and its upcoming move to Texas.
Lentz: ‘Confident and Excited’
Before Toyoda’s inspiring speech, Toyota North America CEO Jim Lentz took the stage to talk about moving to Plano, Texas.
Lentz said that when he became CEO last year, Toyoda challenged him to find a way to ensure the company’s health in the long term. What will it take, Toyoda asked, to be successful 50 years from now?
After a month of pondering, Lentz came to Toyoda with the idea of consolidating most North American operations in a new location.
“The truth is, we really had grown into this huge but siloed and disconnected organization,” Lentz told dealers. “I told Akio that it’s going to be expensive, and it’s going to be painful in the short term.”
Lentz said that, by moving to Plano, Toyota will be a stronger company.
“I wanted the opportunity to improve the way we do business from the ground up,” Lentz told dealers. “So right now we’re confident and excited. It’s a bit like what you must feel like when you break ground on a new dealership.”
Ohara: A Call to Innovation
President and CEO of Toyota Motor Sales Kaz Ohara opened the meeting with a promise to dealers.
“One of our goals here today is to not just inform you, but to hopefully inspire you on some level,” Ohara said. “We know that we can show you charts and talk about sales growth and production levels—and don’t worry, we will. But we also hope to engage the other side of your brain.
Ohara introduced the meeting’s theme: “Best In Town,” and urged the dealers to consider ways to innovate their business.
“We want to give you ideas to take home, to consider and help all of us think about how we, too can innovate,” Ohara said. “It’s never too late to learn a new trick, as I’m told by my children every day.”
Carter: ‘I’m All In’
After Ohara, Senior Vice President of Automotive Operations Bob Carter brought up some sales numbers. And he did it with zeal.
“You are once again the No. 1 retail brand in the U.S.,” Carter said. “I promise you I will never get tired of saying that.”
Carter also touched on the youth market, refuting reports that millennials are moving away from buying cars in favor of ride sharing or other transportation alternatives.
“Despite those articles claiming young buyers are not interested in cars, we are now seeing young buyers as the fastest growing area of the auto business,” he said. “3.5 million new cars this year will be sold to people born after 1980.”
He touted Toyota Financial Services, pointing out they’re the No. 1 finance company in the country.
And, he gushed about the redesigned 2015 Camry.
“I’m so excited about this new Camry,” he said. “I’m like a teenage girl at a One Direction concert.”
Carter finished with a nod to Toyota’s Texas move, lifting up his pant leg to reveal a pair of red cowboy boots.
“It’s not easy finding boots in Toyota red,” he said. “I don’t do anything halfway. I’m all in.”
Murtha: ‘A Very Real Opportunity’
Vice President of Scion Doug Murtha asked dealers:
“What is the Scion customer experience at your store? Do you have a person responsible—designated, not necessarily dedicated—to Scion’s success? What role can your team play in driving higher traffic and handling leads?” Murtha asked.
“We have a very real opportunity to get Scion back on track with exciting new products that are coming. But to get there we need to get started now.”
Part of that is maximizing the customer experience, especially for the younger buyers Scion appeals to.
That’s where Pure Process Plus comes in. This is a pilot program with about 50 participating dealerships where Scion customers can go through nearly every step of the sales process online.
“On average, it takes customers over four hours in a dealership to complete a transaction,” Murtha said. “But nearly half of those in pilot spend only two hours to complete their sale. That’s a big step in the right direction. But from what customers are telling us, we need to get that number under an hour. Look for more on Pure Process Plus in the near future.”
Fay: Passion, Parts and Service
Toyota Division Group Vice President and General Manager Bill Fay began by poking fun at his own stoicism, but he assured the dealers that a fire burned within him.
“I’m passionate about parts and service,” he said.
Fay continued: “Even though sometimes I might not look it, I’m passionate on the inside.”
He dove into the success of ToyotaCare and touted ToyotaCare Plus, a soon-to-be nationwide pilot program that gives customers their 30,000-mile service plus two or three additional services.
Fay talked about Brand Shift, an initiative to remake Toyota’s image as an exciting company with innovative products.
“It’s our way of looking at everything we do through a specific filter,” he said. “We ask ourselves: Is it innovative, inspiring and exciting? And if it isn’t, we start again.”
Toyoda: ‘The Wind is at Our Back’
After he emerged from the FT-1 Concept, Akio Toyoda didn’t mince words.
“At Toyota today, we’re not about excuses,” he said. “For us it’s go big or go home. Or move to Texas.”
Toyoda expressed his full support for the move, and laid out the future.
“The wind is at our back and we have a clear vision of what we want to achieve. And we are working on a global scale” he said. “But I believe it’s more important to think about how we can be of value, rather than just how we can be a success.”
Toyoda’s words carried considerable weight, especially when he announced the formation of the North American Toyota Award, which will be given next year to the dealer who best represents the meeting’s theme of “Best in Town.”
Toyoda paused before delivering his close.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I love what I do. It’s as simple as that,” he said. And I know most of you share my love of this business. We are of one mind. One heart. We are, in fact, a family. Yes things change, but what I hope will never change is our love of cars and our commitment to our customers, our employees and each other.”