With equal parts Texas hospitality, cowboy swagger and heart-pounding product reveals, Toyota laid out the company’s vision at the 2018 National Dealer Meeting. Above all, it was a homecoming: CEO Jim Lentz welcomed dealers to the company’s new North American headquarters in Plano, Texas – emphasizing his “One Toyota” mission.
The meeting began with a rousing highlight video showcasing Team Toyota’s achievements in PyeongChang at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games and Paralympic Games.
“I have to say, it was really refreshing to see countries come together from around the world, with no other agenda than to celebrate athletic competition,” Lentz said. “Watching those athletes realize their dreams after years of training and sacrifice was really exhilarating. It was also very rewarding to watch our sponsorship of the Olympics and Paralympics come to life through our Start Your Impossible campaign. I think we definitely succeeded in sharing our values as a company and what we stand for as One Toyota.”
Welcome Home – Toyota Motor North America CEO Jim Lentz opens the 2018 National Dealer Meeting in Dallas. He welcomed dealers from across the country to TMNA’s new headquarters, a capstone of the “One Toyota” vision.
That singular vision of “One Toyota” was a central message echoed throughout the meeting. Lentz explained to dealers why combining R&D, engineering, manufacturing and sales into Toyota Motor North America (TMNA) was important for our shared success and how the consolidation is already proving beneficial.
“We’re discovering new capabilities and new opportunities to better serve you and our customers,” Lentz said. “Just by getting our sales and manufacturing teams in the same room, working now as One Toyota, we’ve been able to reduce our production guides, or constraints, by 50 percent. That means when demand spikes for, say, red leather interiors, we’re able to change our production plans 50 percent faster than before.”
That efficiency has a ripple effect felt all the way to the service floor. Service technicians can access new products faster. Training materials are developed quicker. Accessorized vehicles are getting to dealership sooner, and with higher volume.
Lentz also highlighted opportunities for innovation that lay ahead – name-checking artificial intelligence, Mobility as a Service (MaaS), autonomous vehicle technology and electrification as key focus areas.
“Every OEM has their own version of a crystal ball, and who’s got the right answer is anybody’s guess,” Lentz said. “But to quote the great Abraham Lincoln, perhaps ‘the best way to predict the future is to create it.’”
Bill Fay, senior vice president of automotive operations for Toyota Motor North America, was next. He shared the overall industry outlook, including current challenges and sales projections for 2018.
“We also want to thank dealers for the fact that we ended 2017 as the No. 1 retail brand, and the No. 1 Certified Pre-Owned brand. Prius was the best-selling hybrid for the 18th year in a row, and Camry was again the best-selling passenger car in the U.S. for the 16th consecutive year. How about that?”
Industry Outlook – Bill Fay, senior vice president of automotive operations, shared the industry outlook and Toyota’s sales projection for 2019.
Despite flattening numbers for the industry overall, Fay explained that 2019 looks to be another promising year with the addition of the all-new Avalon, Corolla Hatchback, plus a minor change in the Yaris iA. And, the all-new RAV4 arrives in showrooms this December.
Fay also touched on Toyota’s commitment to making cars in North America.
“We continue to invest in manufacturing here to the tune of over $5 billion dollars,” Fay said. “The recent announcement of a joint venture with Mazda in Alabama will allow us to build, among other things, 150,000 new Corollas annually. But beyond additional production, the real story here is the increased flexibility we will gain to change production lines as needed based on demand. And hopefully these investments add up to zero supply issues for all of you in the not-so-distant future.”
An Exceptional Guest Experience
The theme of “One Toyota” extends to our dealerships as well – something Jack Hollis, group vice president and general manager of the Toyota Division, explained.
“We want every guest at every dealership to have just one kind of experience: an exceptional one,” Hollis said. “We recognize that the user experience is key for today’s customer, both inside the car and inside the dealership. Together, as one team, let’s work to find ways to make it truly exceptional, personal and worth your guest’s time.”
Towards that end, Hollis outlined exciting changes happening with Toyota’s telematics technology. The U.S. team now has complete and total responsibility for creating and implementing the next generation of telematics for the entire global Toyota market. A new division, Connected Technologies, will be tasked with developing not just the next generation of Entune, but entirely new telematics hardware and software that will deliver a satisfying, intuitive experience for guests.
Driving Success – Jack Hollis, group vice president and general manager of the Toyota Division, introduced highly anticipated products.
Hollis also highlighted the growing use of Toyota SmartPath technology, which allows guests to complete most of the car-shopping process online – including payment options, trade-in valuation, and credit application. He announced that strategy discussions will begin later this year, establishing a timetable for the integration of SmartPath at more dealerships.
“There’s no going back,” Hollis said. “We must adapt or risk becoming extinct. Recent studies report that most consumers want online shopping tools to improve time and transparency of the sales process. But almost all of them still want to complete the transaction at the dealership, which is why we have invested in our SmartPath solutions for you and our guests.”
Exciting New Products
Dealers got a look at the Corolla Hatchback, featuring a lower center of gravity for dynamic handling and sporty new lines. On top of that, it comes standard
with Toyota Safety Sense 2.0. Connectivity is key, too. Corolla will also come hooked up with smartwatch connectivity, Amazon Alexa, and Apple CarPlay. And the Hatchback SE has a special treat: a sporty manual transmission.
Avalon was next. Hollis described it as two all-new vehicles in one, appealing to a wide range of buyers.
“Younger buyers will appreciate the aggressive styling, sportiness and athletic personality of the XSE and Touring. Our more traditional Avalon customers will be attracted to luxury, craftmanship and sophistication of the XLE and Limited.”
On the outside, the new Avalon is longer, wider and lower thanks to the new TNGA platform. It comes with new all-LED headlamps and tail lights. And you can’t miss the distinctive quad exhaust tips. Inside, the cabin pushes the boundaries of luxury, and is available with real wood accents and rich, cognac leather interior.
Finally, dealers got a look at the all-new RAV4 Limited, RAV4 Adventure and RAV4 XSE Hybrid. As the best-selling small SUV in the U.S., and the best-selling vehicle of the entire Toyota line-up, the much-anticipated reveal didn’t disappoint. The RAV4 Limited and Adventure models will arrive in showrooms in early December, with the Hybrid XSE following in March.
Coming Out on Top
A Bright Future – Bob Carter, executive vice president of sales, touched on the company’s investments in ride-sharing and autonomous vehicle technologies.
The meeting ended with a return to the message that opened it: a call to unite as One Toyota.
“When you look back the times that were toughest for the industry, who always rose to the occasion and came out on top?” Hollis asked. “We did. And who has the best partners in the industry? We do. Together, we can handle anything. Together, we can be anything we want to be. Because together, we are One Toyota.”
By Kristen Orsborn
Photos by Daniel Motta