Keeping Tundra from Tumbling

Even though all of Toyota Motor Corp.'s moves to expand sales of its full size pickup seem full proof, the new Tundra could tumble and fall flat on its face.

Even though all of Toyota Motor Corp.'s moves to expand sales of its full size pickup seem full proof, the new Tundra could tumble and fall flat on its face. The importance of dealers in preventing that cannot be overstated.

Toyota's dealerships have prepared for a cultural expansion. They must broaden their outlook from serving customers who purchase vehicles for personal use to servicing rock-ribbed truck buyers who use pickups for their livelihood.

“We need to be prepared to talk to all kinds of pickup truck buyers,” says Brian Smith, corporate manager of truck operations at Toyota Manufacturing U.S.A.

Toyota has been preparing its dealerships for the all-new Tundra for three years. A truck specialist for every dealership has gone through an extensive 4-day training session and Toyota is training 24,000 dealership employees. Anybody who has contact with customers at Toyota dealerships has been “invited” for training.

Educating dealership employees is what any manufacturer would do when introducing an all-new model. But Toyota is doing more than just training dealership staff on how to talk truck.

Toyota Financial Services has financed more than $1 billion in renovations at Toyota dealerships and the captive lender plans to finance $2 billion more in the next two years.

Toyota dealers are enlarging parking spaces, widening showroom doors, adding new service bays and expanding the width and the length of existing bays.

In some instances, ceilings and door opening will be scaled to accommodate pickup trucks with racks and work beds. Dealers are also being encouraged to add Tundras to their rental fleets because people who use their trucks for work can't afford to be without one.

Toyota now has two facilities in the U.S. with a capacity to produce 300,000 Tundra's annually. Toyota sold slightly more 100,000 of the old Tundras in 2006. A Toyota executive says the company expects to double Tundra sales to 200,000 next year. Still, competitors are not shaking in their boots.

A top General Motors truck executive says, “Toyota did everything they said they were going to do with the Tundra. But we still think we have them beat.”

Bill Heck, vice president of Reeder-Simco Truck Center in Fort Smith, AR, sells domestic trucks. He says, “We're not deaf, dumb and blind. There's a Toyota dealer down the street.” He says it's too early to say if he will have to do something special to respond to the new Tundra.

An associate at the Heintzelman Ford Center in Orlando, FL, says, “We have no specific plans or sales strategy regarding the Tundra. We have a list of customers and they're pretty loyal.”

That is the really tough task that lay ahead for Toyota. For the first time in a long time the Toyota brand name will not be enough. Toyota must give fiercely loyal owners of Chevrolet, Dodge, Ford and GMC full-size pickup trucks a reason to buy the Tundra. More than likely it will take more than one reason.

And if Toyota can entice owners of competitive full-size pickup trucks into its dealer showrooms, then the sales staffs must be prepared to authoritatively handle a new kind of customer, someone who probably knows more about pickups than they do.

If Toyota's dealers can't do that, then another chapter will be added to the Tundra's lackluster existence in this market.

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