Talkin' Trucks

TRAVERSE CITY, MI In trying to grow its presence in the U.S. pickup truck market Toyota Motor Corp. will not chase Big Three-only families, targeting instead those with a Camry and a Ford F-150 in the driveway, says the auto maker's U.S. sales chief. We really want the Tundra to serve Toyota customers, Jim Press, president and chief operating officer-Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc., tells Ward's of

TRAVERSE CITY, MI — In trying to grow its presence in the U.S. pickup truck market Toyota Motor Corp. will not chase Big Three-only families, targeting instead those with a Camry and a Ford F-150 in the driveway, says the auto maker's U.S. sales chief.

“We really want the Tundra to serve Toyota customers,” Jim Press, president and chief operating officer-Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc., tells Ward's of Toyota's next-generation fullsize pickup truck, due in fall 2006.

“We want our customers to be able to grow into our company and move through it,” Press says in an interview here.

Toyota will not try to chip away at the dominance of Ford Motor Co.'s F-Series fullsize pickups, which sold an astonishing 126,905 units last month in the U.S., Press says. “If they're in the Toyota family, we want them to stay,” he says of customers. “They may have moved to Ford because we didn't have a (competitive) fullsize vehicle, but if we give them a fullsize truck hopefully they'll come back.”

Press says the record tally by Ford in July shows the U.S. pickup truck market is “robust. It continues to grow.”

He points out the Toyota Tacoma now is the compact pickup segment leader, selling 94,342 units in the U.S. in the first seven months of 2005. But “a third of those customers are going away to big trucks almost every year,” Press says.

Earlier this month, Toyota announced plans to expand its San Antonio, TX, plant, still under construction, by adding 50,000 more units of capacity for the next-generation Tundra, bringing total annual capacity there to 200,000 units.

Press denies rumors of a medium- or heavy-duty Tundra, but industry analysts believe such an offering is likely if Toyota wants to be seen as a serious contender in the fullsize pickup truck segment in the U.S.

Meanwhile, Press bristles at the notion Toyota is having a difficult time finding qualified employees for San Antonio.

He says it is important to qualify it is only a nominal number of skilled trades people that are difficult to come by. “It's like 50 people out of 2,000 (eventual workers). Why is that a headline?”

Press says any delay in finding qualified workers would not deter Toyota from locating a plant in the South again. “We don't have (trouble finding workers at the Huntsville engine plant) in Alabama, at all.”

Toyota feels good about its presence in San Antonio. “What we're doing in Texas is going into an area that economically had no future, and we're making an investment over the long-term,” Press says.

The auto maker will have to “throw our net further out in the beginning,” to catch local skilled labor, he adds. “But I think once we do this, (it) will start the cycle of developing the people. It happened in Kentucky. The largest plant Toyota has now is in Kentucky.”

Toyota's Georgetown, KY, assembly plant has the capacity to build 500,000 vehicles and 500,000 engines annually.

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