Toyota gets lots of respect, but now it wants something else.


So says Don Esmond, general manager of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A.

“Now is the time to move from the most respected car company in America to the most loved,” says Mr. Esmond.

How does a car company become lovable? In part, he says, through a new advertising campaign with a slogan that says, “You want it! Get the feeling!”

That ad campaign is tied to the launch of the redesigned 2002 Toyota Camry, which underwent an emotional readjustment of its own.

Mr. Esmond says the Camry, as America's best-selling car, has appealed to people's sensibilities, but its lack of emotional appeal is a shortcoming.

“For Camry to succeed in its fifth-generation, it would need to move from sensible to sensual,” he says.

Accordingly, designers have attempted to glam the sedan, with bolder styling inside and out.

But Toyota designers wanted to go only so far in restyling a car that's targeted for what Mr. Esmond calls the “Big Middle” — the 3-million unit mid-size car segment. Toyota sells about 400,000 Camrys there.

“The 2002 Camry need not have the lines of an Italian sports. But it will connect emotionally with target buyers like never before,” says Mr. Esmond.

Baby boomers migrated to SUVs because they're practical yet emotional, he says. Toyota is trying to hit both those buttons with the new Camry.

Toyota is also trying to push the “Americanization” of the Camry, built in Georgetown, KY with domestic content approaching 100%.

“That story is best told at the dealership, not in an ad campaign,” says Mr. Esmond. “Consumers see all auto companies as global these days.”

Meanwhile, Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. is trying to avoid “overdealering” as a byproduct of the importer's sales successes.

Says Mr. Esmond, “As we grow, our plans are to grow with our good dealers. We don't look to add a whole lot of dealers, but to grow with the ones we have. I'd rather have one less dealer than one more. We want to make sure our dealerships are in the right places.”

Currently 1,200 dealerships sell Toyotas.

Mr. Esmond says Toyota has increased its ethnic dealer ranks by 38%. But as far as that initiative goes, he adds, “We don't want to just get numbers on the board. It has to make good business sense.”