Introduction: Part two of a two-part series We asked top auto industry managers to assess how things went in 2000 and how they might go in 2001. Last month, domestic auto executives had their say. Now it's the importers' turn to look back and forth.
"The beat goes on" Toyota's aggressive strategy drums up business Toyota Motor Sales USA prides itself lately for leaving no segment unturned and while they're doing that, with one product after another, they keep on growing.
The year 2000 was no exception to that strategy. A record 1.4 million cars and trucks were sold in the U.S. last year, up from 1,281,000 the year before, says Donald V. Esmond, Toyota division group vice president and general manager.
"That was quite a growth rate in 2000," says Mr. Esmond in an interview at Toyota Motor Sales USA's campus-like headquarters in Torrence, CA. "We were helped by the record sales pace through much of 2000, which likely will ease back in 2001 by maybe as much as 10%.
"But contributing even more are the steady stream of new and exciting products, including for 2001 the new Sequoia and the 2002 Highlander SUVs, the second-generation compact RAV4 and the new Tacoma Double Cab.
"In 2000, the Prius hybrid - which is sold out through February - the Echo and the Sienna minivan were standouts among younger buyers. The beat goes on."
Toyota maintains a dealer body of about 1,200 dealers, which division sales Vice President Alan DeCarr says means the highest sales per dealer in its segment.
Truck sales, with the new Tundra full-size truck now joined by the full-size Sequoia SUV, will jump to about 44% of Toyota's total sales this year from 35%-38% last year, says Mr. DeCarr. That's still below the industry average of nearly 50%.
Shipments of the new Highlander SUV, sized between the RAV4 and the 4Runner, were due to start this month and Mr. Esmond expects to sell about 70,000 in calendar 2001.
"Highlander is car-based and will give us five distinctive SUVs," says the Toyota executive. "Sequoia should add another 60,000 sales in '01, accounting for our estimate of 1,460,000 sales, up 4% to 5% from '00."
The growth curve will be seen on the domestic production side, as well, says Mr. Esmond. Sequoia's roll-in at the Tundra plant in Princeton, IN, brings the annual North American capacity level to 1.4 million, "with plenty of room left there for further volume if needed."
Few open points exist among Toyota dealers, says Mr. DeCarr, who notes that dealers across the country are investing in upgraded and new facilities.
For instance, Jack Taylor Toyota in Arlington, VA opened a new 65,000-sq.-ft. building.
Another new initiative, in the Seattle-Tacoma market with nine dealers, is testing a web site, BuyaToyota.com, for information and direct sales of new and used models.
Mr. Esmond, who joined Toyota in 1982 after a 12-year stint in Ford and Lincoln Mercury sales, believes that Toyota dealers are improving their once-maligned customer relations quality levels.
He adds, "We all are working on getting better for our customers. We can't be content just because the products are so superior. Dealers need to treat their customer right - with a steady growth rate just like the Toyota product."