CLE ELUM, WA – With public opinion recovering from last year’s unintended-acceleration debacle, North American production back on track following Japan’s March 11 earthquake and a slew of new models on the horizon,’s mojo has returned, says a top company official.
“There’s an energy coming back in the company – it’s been a tough 36 months – (that) we haven’t felt for awhile,” Bob Carter, group vice president and general manager of theDiv. in the U.S. tells Ward’s here in an interview.
Between now and 2013, Toyota will launch 20 new or refreshed models in the U.S.
The onslaught is the “fastest product cadence I’ve ever seen with this company,” Carter says, speaking on the sidelines of a ’12 Camry media drive event.
A refreshed Tacoma compact pickup debuts in September. While a refresh is typically minor in nature, the Tacoma’s is on the major end of minor, with new sheetmetal and interior and Toyota’s Entune telematics system on tap.
Launching in October is the seventh-generation Camry, the industry’s best-selling passenger car. Details surrounding the new model, including pricing, are being kept under wraps until Aug. 23.
Also in October, Toyota launches the Prius V station wagon, the first variant in the newly created Prius family.
Also coming in the fourth quarter is the Prius plug-in hybrid, which will be sold in 15 states before going national in about a year; a new Yaris subcompact; and the Scion iQ minicar, an addition to the youth-targeted brand’s current 3-model lineup.
Moving to first-quarter 2012, Toyota will roll out the Prius C compact hybrid and another all-new Scion, the FR-S rear-drive sports car. A California-only RAV4 EV is due by the middle of next year.
Carter promises Toyota’s upcoming models will feature more-emotional designs, thanks in large part to Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda.
Toyoda is all about “product, product, product,” and has made paradigm shifts within the company to bring about this new breed of car and truck, Carter says.
“What you’ll now be seeing within the next two, three years is a shift into overdrive on product development. I promise you, you’ll see these cars and say, ‘Wow, that’s a Toyota?’”
The blitz, in which Toyota will pitch a new marketing message every month for at least a couple of years, should be enough to tip public opinion back in its favor and blunt some of the competition’s gains, Carter contends.
Toyota’s lack of new product in key segments flooded with new entries from, Kia and other competitors also has impacted the company’s sales. It’s not all about recalls and production disruptions, he says.
“Those products deserve respect; they’re good products,” Carter says of the latest from the two Korean brands. But “the real challenge is…keeping things going when your core products are 4- and 5-years old.
“What you’re seeing with us is, we’re right at the tipping point. We’re going to be the ones that are fresh.”
While he says Toyota is being careful to avoid past mistakes and sounding arrogant by throwing out lofty U.S. sales and market-share projections, Carter does predict some gains ahead for the auto maker.
With eight of Toyota’s 12 North American models back at full production following quake-related supply disruptions (the remaining four will return to normal levels in September), dealer lots are refilling with inventory, the executive notes.
“There was a time one month we were in excess of 20% U.S. share,” he says. “I’m not going to suggest to you that’s our goal. But we just pulled an 11% share. We’re not an 11% company.
“I can’t run the railroad at 11%,” he adds. “That was an aberration because I had (only) 140,000 units to sell.”
Carter says the seasonally adjusted annual rate, which plunged below 12 million units in recent months, indicates Toyota andbuyers sat out the market in May, June and July.
“Our share dropped, but our outflow (of Toyota owners to other brands) has not moved. What does that tell you?” he asks.
“When some major players…(are) not pushing the market like they normally do, consumers wait on the sidelines.”
Ward’s forecasts Toyota to regain some lost share in July, snagging close to 12% of the market vs. 10.6% in June, although units in inventory will remain far below average.