Pandemic? Toyota and Its U.S. Dealers Soldier on Amid the Challenges

Livestream virtual meeting celebrates surprisingly resilient sales in 2020 and sets the stage for a major bounce back in 2021.
by Dan Miller
November 2020
Pandemic? Toyota and Its U.S. Dealers Soldier on Amid the Challenges
True Friends
TMNA President and CEO Ted Ogawa assured the dealers that "we will always have your back. As we say in Japan, true friends are found through hardship."
Make no mistake: 2020 has been a year unlike any other.
 
But when it comes to Toyota and its U.S. dealers — who gathered via live video stream Wednesday for their annual business meeting — the beat goes on.
 
And on.
 
“We’ve been through a lot together… recessions, recalls, natural disasters,” said Bob Carter, executive vice president of Sales for TMNA. “But, honestly, we’ve never seen anything like this. Yet here we are, having finished the month of September with a 16% increase in volume. We’re on pace for a 10% increase in October. And this fourth quarter could well be one of the greatest in our history. I’m blown away by what you have accomplished.”
 
The virtual get-together, which replaced a traditional Toyota National Dealer Meeting originally planned to be held in Las Vegas, acknowledged the challenges. Some 95% of the dealers registered for show and more than 2,800 people participated.
 
To summarize, total industry sales are estimated to come in around 14.4 million units, down from the record 17+ million in recent years. And Toyota’s sales are likely to close 2020 at roughly 1.75 million units, off the usual pace of 2 million.
 
Trucks and SUVs have continued to lead the way, headed up by the RAV4 that is likely to remain the country’s best-selling SUV for the fourth year running. Still, passenger cars remain a key contributor, most notably the Camry which will be the best-selling sedan in the U.S. for the 19th year in a row.
 
On the flipside, dealer inventories remain less than optimal. Toyota’s executives assured dealers that Toyota’s North American manufacturing plants are working hard to make up for the production lost during the pandemic-mandated shutdowns.
 
The view ahead, though, should be brighter. The dealers were made privy to confidential details about a slew of new products, new advertising campaigns and new ways of doing business that aim to deliver a major bounce back in 2021.
 

Reasons to Celebrate
Jack Hollis (left), senior vice president of Automotive Operations, and Bob Carter, executive vice president of Sales, acknowledged the challenges but also highlighted the successes. Case in point: Toyota’s dealers are on pace to sell roughly 1.75 million new vehicles in 2020.

 

Product: Venza, Sienna, Mirai and More
 
As always, new vehicles are the key to renewed growth. David Christ, group vice president and general manager of the Toyota Division, cast the spotlight on the return of a dramatically restyled Venza, an all-new and all-hybrid Sienna and a next-generation hydrogen fuel cell-powered Mirai.
 
Meanwhile, Jack Hollis, senior vice president of Automotive Operations, reiterated Toyota’s commitment to have a hybrid, plug-in or all-electric version of every model by 2025 — with worldwide demand for hybrids on the rise.
 
“That’s why we’re expanding our hybrid engine lineup,” he said. “We’re creating an innovative new powertrain that we call One Motor Hybrid that will deliver higher performance and better handling as well as increased power and towing capability. Hybrids will no longer be equated with just fuel economy.”
 

Product Parade
David Christ, group vice president and general manager of the Toyota Division, shared details about the brand’s next wave of vehicles.

 

Process: SmartPath Rollout Accelerates
 
In addition to product, Hollis also talked at length about process — most notably Toyota’s SmartPath program that has begun to deliver on the promise of a seamless transition from online shopping to in-dealership buying.
 
“As the pandemic hit, demand for a digital retail solution skyrocketed,” said Hollis. “We’ve seen a 430% increase in dealers signing up. So we reallocated personnel to launch more stores and have doubled our pace of dealer deployments. This is the inevitable future of retailing that we all knew was coming. And we were ready for it.”
 
Hollis said the next generation of SmartPath, set to launch in February, will allow customers to lease, finance or purchase a new Toyota vehicle completely online.
 
“Customers don’t just prefer this, they are demanding it,” he said. “Let SmartPath be your online sales solution.”
 

Telling Toyota’s Story
Ed Laukes, group vice president, Toyota Division Marketing, revealed how TMNA would promote the brand’s product lineup for the 2021 model year.

 

People: We Have Your Back
 
Such innovations point to the close working relationship between Toyota and its dealers, a competitive advantage that’s never been more important than during these challenging times. That was the over-arching message delivered by TMNA president and CEO Ted Ogawa.
 
“Without you, we are nothing,” said Ogawa. “You, our valued dealers, are the single most important piece of our puzzle. And you have my commitment that this will never change. As we say in Japan, true friends are found through hardship. Or another way to put it: Here at Toyota, we will always have your back.”
 
Hollis closed the meeting by echoing Ogawa’s sentiments.
 
“I’m proud to be your partner, to be a member of your team and your family,” he said. “I’m really grateful for the privilege to work for this company, on this team, at this time, with all of you. Let’s not forget: We still have a lot to celebrate and a lot to look forward to.”
 
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