Special Coverage

Management Briefing Seminars

TRAVERSE CITY, MI – From the onset of the development of its fullsize Tundra pickup, Toyota Motor Corp. engineers, designers and product planners have eyed the lucrative aftermarket for accessories as a way to increase profits and capture share.

As a newcomer to the segment, which accounts for 13.2% of light-vehicle sales annually, according to Ward’s data, and is the most heavily accessorized sector, Toyota studied the Tundra’s target buyers to determine their unique needs before the truck was built, says Mike O’Brien, product planning, Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc., at the Management Briefing Seminars here.

There are two primary reasons why aftermarket companies heavily accessorize fullsize pickups, O’Brien says. “They’re put through a large variety of uses,” and “they’re purchased by a wide variety of buyers. In response, we learned a new way of accessorizing.”

The system Toyota had in place for selling accessories at its dealerships wasn’t working, because dealers didn’t have the necessary items on hand and aftermarket companies were better equipped to handle customer needs.

It was clear Toyota had to do better in offering accessories at the point of sale, O’Brien says, noting studies show that offering add-on items at the dealership increases showroom traffic 10% and improves the closing ratio on sales 25%.

To remedy the problem, Toyota turned to its longstanding product-development philosophy, “gembutsu,” which means “go and see.”

But to meet the unique needs of the truck market, gembutsu needed a slight modification.

“For Tundra, we decided to ‘go, see and do,’” O’Brien says. “We wanted to find out what drove customization. So we decided to hit the road and observe how real people were using their trucks to earn a living. We didn’t just see the market, we lived it.”

Toyota sent a team on the road for two trips covering several weeks and spanning thousands of miles.

Made up of Tundra engineers, designers and product planners, the team visited aftermarket suppliers and upfitters, as well as construction sites, mining camps, ranches, farms and snowplow manufacturers.

The knowledge gleaned proved invaluable.

They learned, for instance, just how many small accessory manufacturers create products that uniquely suit a local need, and that upfitters provide far more than the product, itself. “In fact, their consulting knowledge weighed in heavily on purchase decisions,” O’Brien says.

Construction workers said they didn’t want to learn post purchase that a particular item they wanted to add to their pickup wouldn’t work because they didn’t order a specific package.

“And they told us they expect their truck to perform beyond its stated capability,” O’Brien says. “That’s the point of upfitting.”

Toyota used the information gathered by the team to build a pickup directly aimed at its target audience. For plowing, Toyota engineered the Tundra with frame attach points, ballast weight and an adequate front-end height. “We wanted the best half-ton (pickup) for plowing,” O’Brien says.

Toyota also offered transmissions that provide greater towing options.

Dealerships were supplied a wider variety of accessories, doubling the number offered to more than 50.

But, due to the specialized knowledge of many upfitters, the auto maker chose not to dabble in every accessory.

“There are a large number of items better suited for the aftermarket,” O’Brien says. “However, we decided that some accessories would benefit greatly by being included at the point of sale. These tend to be basic needs and can be included as part of financing and warranty coverage.”

Toyota’s efforts have paid off, O’Brien says, noting Tundra sales have climbed 56% in the first seven months, compared with year-ago.

bpope@wardsauto.com