Sky’s the Limit

Toyota and its dealers celebrate continued growth amid a strong but slowing automotive market
by Dan Miller
September/October 2019
Sky’s the Limit
Swinging for the Fences
Jack Hollis, group vice president and general manager of the Toyota Division, gave dealers a sneak preview of several all-new or significantly refreshed products destined for dealer showrooms. First up is the 2020 Highlander, which Hollis predicts will be a "home run."
Toyota sold 218,400 vehicles in August. And Bob Carter wasn’t about to waste the opportunity to personally thank those who helped make it happen.
 
“We just had our all-time best-ever August,” said TMNA’s executive vice president of Sales to the Toyota National Dealer Meeting Wednesday. “And it was the second-best month ever in the history of Toyota!”
 
Yes, August’s sales were just one isolated data point. But it speaks to how those on hand felt about their fortunes against an economic backdrop that some would describe as less than rosy.
 
After all, while industry sales are currently on pace to reach 17 million units for a record fifth straight year, there are signs of a slowdown. But Toyota — riding the wave of a reenergized product mix headlined by an all-new Supra — is still on track to remain No. 1 in retail sales and sales per dealership. And it is striving to secure a very strong 15 percent market share.
 
“Even if the industry comes in a little above or a little below where it’s been, it’s still another great year,” said Carter. “So let’s have a party. I mean, if we’re not having fun now, we should get out of the business.”
 
Needless to say, the group gathered in Las Vegas isn’t about to stop selling and servicing vehicles.
 
Quite the contrary. Over the course of the meeting, Toyota’s leaders assured dealers that the good times would continue to roll. And they provided plenty of evidence to back up that claim.
 

On a Roll
Bob Carter, executive vice president of Sales, congratulated dealers for helping Toyota remain the No. 1 retail brand in the United States for the eighth year in a row.


Potent Product Pipeline
 
Most importantly, the dealers were given an exclusive sneak peek of several all-new or significantly refreshed products that promise to build on the brand’s strong momentum for years to come. While details on each will need to wait until we get closer to their launch dates, what we can say is Toyota will continue to cover all of the bases. Look for the company to double down on passenger cars at a time when some competitors are in retreat, expand its range of hybrid and other electrified offerings and capitalize on the growing popularity of SUVs, crossovers and light trucks.
 
Leading this charge will be the thoroughly redesigned 2020 Highlander. The gas model debuts in December followed by the hybrid in February.
 
“There are a lot of people out there looking for a premium three-row SUV and the new Highlander is perfect for every one of them,” said Jack Hollis, group vice president and general manager of the Toyota Division. “I am super excited about the year ahead. I think this Highlander is going to be a home run.”
 

Hitting on All Cylinders
Bill Fay, senior vice president of Automotive Operations, said the dealers' service business is on pace to be up 7 percent this year, parts sales are likely to set an all-time record and the Toyota Certified Pre-owned Vehicles program will remain the industry's leader for the 10th straight year.


SmartPath Delivers
 
The meeting also served as the official launch of SmartPath, an all-encompassing digital system that promises to deliver a seamless and transparent sales process for Toyota dealers and their customers. Pilot stores that have been using the system since May (see related story) have recorded extremely positive results.
 
“The one stat that really stands out for me is that over 50 percent of the SmartPath customers agree to the advertised or selling price they receive online,” said Hollis. “This new system is helping to create a ‘no haggle’ transaction that’s faster and easier for the customer.”
 
Fixed Ops Rock
 
Bill Fay, senior vice president of Automotive Operations, said Toyota dealers’ service business was up more than 7 percent this year and parts sales were likely to set an all-time record.
 
And he believes connected car technology could help drive continued growth on the fixed operations front. Take, for example, a new auto insurance offering from Toyota Financial Services that will allow owners to realize significant savings on their premiums based on how they drive.
 
The Power of the Games
 
According to Ed Laukes, group vice president of Toyota Division Marketing, the brand achieved a 14 percent gain in purchase consideration and 32 percent increase in traffic to Toyota.com over the past year. That means more people are putting Toyota on their shopping lists. Expect that surge to continue for the balance of this year and throughout 2020.
 
Creative approaches — such as expanded partnerships with connected TV partners like Hulu, Roku and Amazon Fire, a strong commitment to lifestyle and engagement events and increased investments in digital and social media — will help fuel this fire.
 

The Big Picture
TMC President Akio Toyoda challenged dealers to dream big as the company embraces new technologies and business models to deliver mobility for all. "We have a duty to shine the light everywhere we can," he said.


But it’s Toyota’s role as a worldwide partner of the Olympic and Paralympic Games that could really move the needle. Promotion of Tokyo 2020 has already begun and will reach its full crescendo next summer.
 
“The Games are going to be an awesome opportunity and experience,” said Hollis. “It really represents who we are as a company. Let’s continue to focus on putting people first, because I truly believe we rise by lifting others.”
 
TMC President Akio Toyoda echoed those lofty sentiments in a rousing and emotional finish to the meeting, reminding dealers that what makes Toyota truly special is not only what it does but how it goes about doing it.
 
“The Toyota Way values, passed down to me by my grandfather, are the same values that all of us share,” he said. “Let’s continue to put people first, lead by example and make this world a kinder, better place — not just for our customers but for everyone. Together we are Toyota!”

 
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