About Toyota’s Jim Lentz
Over my years covering the auto industry, I’ve had the opportunity to meet and get to know, to a certain extent, several important people. Some of them knew that they were important people and presented themselves that way. Others were the kind of people that you feel comfortable with. People who seem, sort of glossing Barbra Streisand, just like regular people.
One of the people in the latter category is Jim Lentz, who will be retiring from his position as CEO of Toyota Motor North America (TMNA) on April 1, 2020. He will be followed by Tetsuo “Ted” Ogawa, present chief operating officer at TMNA, whom I haven’t had the opportunity of meeting, but who I’m guessing has the same sort of genuine character exhibited by Lentz.
Lentz has been with Toyota for 38 years. No small feat, that.
He has faced many challenges over those years. Probably the most notable was the “unintended acceleration” problem that arose 10 years ago. But Lentz and his team handled that in a forthright manner.
Another challenge of an entirely different sort was the decision to bring several Toyota teams together on one campus in Plano, Texas. This meant that literally thousands of people were moved from places ranging from California to Kentucky. Again, this challenge was addressed with evident consideration regarding the impacts on the people.
The mark of an excellent manager is how the tough times are dealt with.
In his career at Toyota, which started in 1982, Lentz had many positions in marketing and sales. And for a good part of his tenure—every year since 1997, with the exception of 2001, the Toyota Camry has been the best-selling car in the U.S., something that it is more than likely to be for 2019, as well. (The Honda Accord took the crown in ’01).
This year Kyle Busch won the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship driving a Camry; Toyota won the series’ Manufacturers Championship for the third time in four years.
The Toyota that Jim Lentz is leaving is certainly a different one than that he had joined.
Another mark of an excellent manager is leaving a place better than he found it.
If heritage means anything in this industry, then it is surprising that Buick doesn’t make more of its history because the story of the early years of the company is nothing short of astonishing.
Often when there are vehicles that have ceased production and are in the process of being completely moved out of the system there are sales numbers that look like this: Honda Insight: June 2016, 9; June 2015, 126; % change: 93.1% Sometimes there is a vehicle that has just gone into production and it catches the sales at just the right time so that there are numbers that look like this: Honda Ridgeline: June 2016, 2,472; June 2015, 7; % change: 33,856% OK.
Last year Buick sold 219,231 vehicles in the U.S.