International Auto Diplomacy

Perhaps Don Esmond should have chosen diplomatic service. The senior vice president and general manager of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. downplays discussion about the significance of recent headlines touting the success of the Japanese auto maker and the foundering of its U.S. counterparts. We focus on our own numbers, not the others, says Esmond, a former Ford executive. We simply expect our sales

Perhaps Don Esmond should have chosen diplomatic service.

The senior vice president and general manager of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. downplays discussion about the significance of recent headlines touting the success of the Japanese auto maker and the foundering of its U.S. counterparts.

“We focus on our own numbers, not the others,” says Esmond, a former Ford executive. “We simply expect our sales to grow by 5% to 6% for 2004, and that's what we are focused on.”

Still, more than a few Detroit executives would raise a glass if Toyota would falter a bit.

The competition would love, for example, to see Toyota market share slip. It captured an 11.2% share of the U.S. light-vehicle market in 2003 with sales of 1.87 million units, up from a 10.4% share on sales of 1.76 million in 2002.

But even in adversity, Esmond's diplomacy shines through.

“If we lost market share that would be good news for the entire industry. Since we're going to grow (volume) by 5% to 6% in 2004, any share loss by us would mean sales industry wide went up even higher,” he says.

Perhaps he's simply being diplomatic because if Toyota gets too strong, Washington might start talking protectionist legislation as it has in the past.

Responds Esmond, “Is it the Big Three or the Big Two and a German that we compete with? We're as much a part of the American fiber as DaimlerChrysler is.”

He adds, “We can't control anyone else's sales or the fact that we've grown while others like Chrysler and Ford have slipped. They have to be more concerned over how they can grow than about us.”

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