Special Coverage

NADA Convention & Exposition

SAN FRANCISO – With the skillful timing of a standup comic, Jim Lentz condenses the dynamic between women customers and the men who work in car dealerships.

When they interact, the women often feel frustrated and the men are left without a sale, says Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. president and chief operating officer.

The friction source? “Men tend to interrupt,” Lentz says, adding they do so believing they know what the customer wants, thinks or plans to say next.

“Women like to tell,” he deadpans, pausing for effect, “the whole story.”

Knowing laughter ripples through a large audience here at the National Automobile Dealers Assn. convention, where Lentz is a keynote speaker.

His message to men: Shut up and listen.

Women make up some 64% of U.S. light-vehicle buyers, Lentz says. They also represent $200 billion in purchasing power, which rivals the gross domestic product of Denmark.

Along with the increasingly influential Hispanic population, the fastest-growing ethnic group in the U.S., “women are definitely the key to the future success of our industry,” he says. “Real listening will sell more cars.”

And the U.S. market is poised to see more sales, Lentz says, adding he is a “firm believer” that deliveries will approach 16 million units by 2015.

All the indicators are there, he says. Projections show the U.S. population will have expanded by 31 million people in 2020, 24 million of whom will be eligible drivers.

By that time, Gen Y – a term used to describe 19- to 31-year-olds and the largest consumer group since the Baby Boomer era – will have matured. And they’ll be ready to spend.

In addition, current scrappage-rate trends and a rapidly aging fleet favor vehicle replacement. Coupled with a growing dearth of used vehicles, Lentz says all signs point to a groundswell of new-vehicle demand.

The only potential downsides rest with the Gen Ys, many of whom are carrying greater debt loads, largely from credit cards and student loans, than previous generations.

“They just may need their grandparents to co-sign the loan,” Lentz jokes.

And then there is the vehicle-interest level. “We should be concerned, because they don’t seem to be as enthusiastic about cars as we were,” he adds.

emayne@wardsauto.com