The topics they discussed also had the ring of familiarity to them: growing vehicle sales, expanding market share and sneak peeks of a slew of new products that promise to build on the momentum that even a global pandemic couldn’t derail.
“If you remember back to March of last year, we were on target for an all-time record first quarter,” said Dave Christ, group vice president and general manager of the Toyota Division, in his address to the dealers. “We were on a roll and then suddenly everything stopped and everything changed. It was tough. But you rose to the challenge and weathered the storm. We want to take this opportunity to say a big thank-you to all of you, for prioritizing the health of your team members and our customers. You got us through a very difficult time and we can’t thank you enough.”
Echoes of past success, however, were tempered with the acknowledgement of a new future. In the short run, that included multiple mentions of “inventory challenges” and “supply chain disruptions.” Longer term? More fully embracing a digital retail environment while gearing up for the inevitable shift to zero emissions vehicles.
Doubling Down on Digital
So, for example, the meeting included insights offered by Scott Galloway, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, New York University marketing professor and New York Times best-selling author of the book, Post Corona — From Crisis to Opportunity.
“His assessment that at the beginning of the pandemic online sales accelerated 10 years in just eight weeks is really mind-blowing,” said Christ. “Based on internal research we just conducted, 51% of Toyota owners today say they want to do all of the key vehicle purchase steps online. And thanks to the pandemic they are more comfortable than ever with making a major purchase online. They are ready now for a digital retailing solution backed by a brand they trust.”
That’s the mission of Toyota’s SmartPath system. Christ said it’s quickly become Toyota’s No. 1 retail tool for dealers with 90 stores fully up and running on it and about 100 more preparing to launch.
“The bottom line is that based on all the data we have, Gen Y and Millennials are now hitting their peak earning years and this is how they want to buy a car. So all of you need a digital retailing tool to successfully sell cars going forward.”
Meanwhile, the executives announced that a complete refresh of the Toyota Digital Ecosystem — such as Toyota.com and toyotaowners.com — is currently underway. Included in that initiative is a revamp of the Engage site with resources to help dealers educate, recognize and reward their team members at a time when attracting and retaining qualified workers is becoming increasingly challenging.
Marketing, likewise, is doubling down on digital. Group Vice President Lisa Materazzo revealed that the company will soon roll out its new Unmistakably Toyota Digital Hub that promises one-stop shopping for dealers in search of brand principles and values as well as typography, imagery, logos and all-new audio elements — including the Toyota brand’s first ever audio signature.
‘Look at This Product Cadence’
On the all-important inventory front, President and Chief Executive Officer Ted Ogawa noted that Toyota’s 15th plant in North America — Mazda Toyota Manufacturing — was poised to start up production later this month.
“The opening of this new state-of-the-art plant, which will manufacture the new Corolla Cross, brings our total investment in North American manufacturing, technology, R&D and facilities to almost $15 billion since I arrived in 2017.”
And speaking of the Corolla Cross, when the gas model goes on sale in early October, it will kick off a parade of seven full-model changes and seven brand new vehicles in just 29 months.
“Look at this product cadence,” said Jack Hollis, senior vice president of Automotive Operations. “You might want to rest up now while you have the chance because I’m telling you, we are going to crush it!”
Included in that deluge is the bZ4x, Toyota’s first all-electric SUV built on the company’s new e-TNGA platform. Bob Carter, executive vice president of Sales, said it will be the first in a series of 15 battery-electric vehicles (BEV) to be launched by Toyota globally by 2025. It’s also a core component of an electrification strategy that’s rooted in reality.
“Battery electric vehicles are wonderful options for some people in some regions,” he said. “But for most people, hybrids make more sense. But as customer demand for BEVs increases, so will our line-up. And they will be BEVs that meet Toyota’s standards of value for money and QDR (Quality Dependability Reliability). We brought electrification to the market 23 years ago with the Prius. We have more patents on battery technology than anyone else. There are only two automakers who make their own batteries, and Toyota is one of them. And we just announced an additional $13.6 billion investment into battery development and production. So nobody should underestimate us. Between the tortoise and the hare, we all know who came out the winner.”
In other words, amid all that is new, this is still the same old Toyota.
“Let’s stand together as one team, one Toyota — united by the values we believe and secure in the knowledge our partnership, our friendship, is stronger than ever,” said Toyota Motor Corporation President Akio Toyoda via a video address. “Because what we’ve just been through has made clear that together we are better. And together there’s nothing we can’t overcome and nothing we can’t achieve. We can all agree there is nothing better than Toyota together.”