The Curious Case of Toyota & $500 for Every Licensed Driver
Last month at the New York International Auto Show, Bill Fay, Toyota Div. Group vice president and general manager, revealed the 2015 Toyota Camry. This is the seventh-generation Camry, which launched in 2011.
The norm at about this time in a vehicle’s lifecycle is to perform a facelift. A nip and a tuck. A new front end and rear. Changes to the interior to freshen things up a bit.
But that’s not what Toyota did, despite the fact that the Camry has been the best-selling car in the U.S. for 12 years running and is on pace to take first place again this year.
No, what Toyota designers and engineers did was to essentially transform the car. Completely. The only panel on the outside of the vehicle that will be a carryover is the roof. The interior is new. The car is 1.8 in. longer than the current version and the track is widened 0.4 in.
Some 2,000 parts are different.
This is not what OEMs do when the vehicle in question is a sales leader. This is not what OEMs do when the vehicle in question is tanking in the market. A fascia, less, but a transformation, no.
Something is going on at Toyota.
That “something” became even more pronounced on April 28 when it was announced that Toyota will be moving from its long-time campus in Torrance, Calfornia, and moving east to Plano, Texas, where it will establish a new headquarters facility for the people of Toyota Motor Sales, Toyota Engineering & Manufacturing North America, and Toyota Financial Services. People will be transferred from California, Kentucky and New York to the new facility which will be fully functional by 2017. (Some of the people from Toyota Engineering & Manufacturing will be transferred to the Toyota Technical Center near Ann Arbor, Michigan, which will be expanded.
Explaining this undertaking, Jim Lentz, Toyota’s first chief executive officer for the North America Region, said: “With our major North American business affiliates and leaders together in one location for the first time, we will be better equipped to speed decision making, share best practices, and leverage the combined strength of our employees. This, in turn, will strengthen our ability to put customers first and to continue making great products that exceed their expectations. Ultimately, enabling greater collaboration and efficiencies across Toyota will help us become a more dynamic, innovative and successful organization in North America. This is the most significant change we’ve made to our North American operations in the past 50 years, and we are excited for what the future holds.”
The last time a car maker did something like this was when Nissan announced in 2005 that it was moving from southern California to central Tennessee.
But the case of Toyota is most curious.
Yes, the state of Texas reportedly sweetened the location with $40-million. And the taxes and regulations in California are widely held to be onerous, not just by comparison to Texas, but across the board (well, maybe not in Sacramento).
It seems that there is something else at play here. Perhaps these are two examples of a thorough cultural shift at Toyota.
What it may mean is discussed in this edition of “Autoline After Hours” by John McElroy of Autoline, Drew Winter of Ward’s AutoWorld, and me.
In addition to which, we discuss a variety of things, ranging from April sales numbers to the number of points that Mercedes is racking up in the Formula One series.
In addition to which, James Dollinger, the man who has sold more Buicks in the U.S., than anyone else (he’s possibly sold more than anyone in the world, but even he admits that there may be someone in China who has outsold him), talks about his plan for reinvigorating sales at General Motors. It’s called the “Extra Mile.” He explains that America went the extra mile for GM in the form of the loan guarantees, so it is time for GM to go the extra mile for all licensed drivers in the U.S.—in the form of a $500 voucher for service at any GM dealership, regardless of what kind of car the person has. (Actually, it is a little bit more complicated that this. But just a little.)
Whether you want to learn about the Extra Mile or just hear a man who is dedicated to customer service in a way that is nothing more than astonishing, you’ve got to check it out here:
To know that 3,000 cars have been delivered since October 2015 would undoubtedly result in a shrug: in 2017 Toyota delivered 387,081 Camrys, so that 3,000 is less than one percent, and this is in one year, not just over two.
The common wisdom seems to be that midsize cars have pretty much had it in the U.S. new car market.
The previous-generation Hyundai Elantra (2010 to 2015) had the edgy Fluidic Sculpture design forming its sheet metal; it’s bigger brethren, the Sonata, was more visible in this regard, though the smaller size of the Elantra gave the skin a greater tautness than was the case on the Sonata.