Expect the 1,200-plus dealer attendees that gather next week at the Toyota National Dealer Meeting in Las Vegas to be among the happiest visitors there.
David Christ, group vice president/general manager for Toyota, says there is plenty to celebrate at the annual dealer meeting, scheduled for Sept. 12-14. Recent Toyota wins include August 2023 sales, marking its best retail month in almost two years, new product launches – specifically two body-on-frame vehicles, Tacoma and Land Cruiser – and a growing array of vehicles with multiple powertrain options.
“We really feel we’re hitting our stride,” Christ (pictured, below left) tells Wards. “The dealer meetings are always an opportunity to build confidence in the brand. And we think we’re going to do that in several ways.”
Expect Toyota leaders to talk about the latest sales successes that have kept the automaker the No.1 vehicle manufacturer in the world. In the first quarter of 2023 (April-June in Japan), Toyota’s worldwide sales increased approximately 313,000 units compared to the same period during the previous fiscal year. Net revenues increased 24.2%.
Christ hints that Toyota leaders at the meeting will announce new products and refined training initiatives for dealership salespeople and staff. A few years ago, the manufacturer shifted its Engage application and platform from a sales to customer focus and, more recently, developed a series of videos that explain the intricacies of different powertrains.
“They’re really helpful because technology today and cars today are so advanced, even good salespeople who want to learn (benefit),” Christ says. “It really helps simplify it for them.”
In addition, Toyota is continually creating new dealer educational opportunities, including easier access to its education and certification resources. Yes, dealer education about hybrids and electric vehicles is critical, but so is moving into omnichannel retail that meets customers’ needs for virtual, hybrid and in-person sales.
One such initiative is Toyota’s SmartPath tool that is currently in 500 dealerships.
“It provides what we call a bridge between the online guest experience and the dealership experience,” he says of SmartPath. “And it’s a very, very successful product for our dealers. The second thing that we launched just last year is SmartPath service. That takes the same concept that we created for sales and moves it to the service department. Those help dealers become more digital and really offer customers what they want.”
Toyota has been criticized for what some call its slow move toward adding battery-electric vehicles to its lineup. Christ says the company has committed to electrification with the following a caveat:
“We really jumped all in on what we call electrics and given the customers a choice in our powertrains so they can choose what is best for them,” he says, adding vehicles with internal-combustion and hybrid engines remain critical Toyota offerings.
“I think the general feedback from our dealers on our approach to electrification has been extremely positive. I feel that they like the approach,” he says. “Most dealers (are multi-franchise) and dealers have communicated to us that they like the ability at Toyota to give their customers choices. They like the direction our powertrains are going as far as (fuel) economy, horsepower, torque and the drivability aspects. And, honestly, they are telling us to keep going with our approach.”