The Toyota brand name conjures up many images, but hulking fullsize pickup trucks and outrageously fast luxury cars aren't among them — yet.
Just wait. Toyota Motor Corp., the world's third-largest vehicle producer is moving meticulously down a checklist to fix every glitch and patch every hole in its U.S. product lineup.
In the next several years, Toyota will have powerful big pickups, a new generation of highly-styled Lexus luxury cars and more fuel-efficient hybrid vehicles — in addition to its hugely successful lineup of mainstream sedans and light trucks, promises Jim Press, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Toyota Motor Sales USA.
Check, check and check.
In an interview with Ward's, Press insists that displacing the Chrysler Group as one of the U.S. “Big Three” is not a goal, even though the auto maker continues to bulk up sales and production in North America.
However, Toyota certainly is interested in competing in virtually every vehicle segment in North America, from small economy cars with its new youth-oriented Scion brand to the highly profitable fullsize pickup market, to supercars.
To do this, Press changes hats with aplomb, switching from a hybrid-promoting environmentalist to a red meat-eating car guy.
How big is the new V-8 that Toyota will build in Alabama for the new pickup, due out in fall 2006? “Real, real big. It's not a girlie-man engine,” Press says with a laugh.
The current Tundra is not quite big or powerful enough to compete head to head with the likes of the Ford F-150 or Chevrolet Silverado, so Toyota is building a bigger, better one in a new factory in San Antonio, TX.
Press says Toyota currently has about 4.3% of the fullsize pickup market, vs. 12% overall, and that certainly leaves room for growth. But he says there now is no specific market-share target.
Despite all its successes in 2004, Toyota has had setbacks as well. It is killing its MR2 Spyder and Celica sports cars in the U.S. after the '05 model year because of dwindling sales. Another problem: below-par customer satisfaction at Toyota dealerships while its Lexus dealers are among the industry's best.
And despite being the top-selling U.S. luxury brand, Lexus continues to be criticized for lacking the panache of its European competitors and for failing to offer all-wheel drive, an option now available or standard for many of its competitors.
But once again, Toyota is checking off the boxes.
Right now at least, the Scion tC coupe is succeeding and taking away some of the sting from the problems with the MR2 and Celica. Toyota also has launched a major initiative to improve its dealer customer satisfaction, including a new survey system, a new covenant that improves advertising practices and increased field support.
Press blames some of the problems on Toyota's fast growth.
He says: “We're really taxing the facilities, and we're taxing the number of people that work in the dealerships and we're also taxing the training and development of our people.
“We also haven't given the dealers the tools they need to monitor their processes and monitor their people and achieve the kinds of levels of satisfaction that we all want. In May, we launched a whole new survey system that enlightens the dealers and allows them to identify in their processes and their people where their issues are, where their problems are.”
The goal, Press says, is to have Toyota customers as satisfied with their dealership experience as they are with the product.