Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Lentz to Dealers - No Magic Dust for Success

By Marty Bernstein
AIADA Contributing Editor

Jim Lentz, president and CEO of Toyota Motor Sales, USA, told the 500+ audience at the American International Automobile Dealers Association’s 38th annual luncheon meeting in San Francisco, “There’s no Toyota magic dust I can sprinkle to make things better. It won’t happen, but I can tell you this… we will get through this year, the challenge will make us stronger and the long term outlook is very good.”

Lentz was responding to the industry events and days leading up to the luncheon in San Francisco. The general tone of conversations during NADA’s annual convention was cautious, careful and to some degree concerned as the slowing of the economy impacts the retail automobile business. Optimism was not rampant.

Yet from Toyota’s industry perspective all was not doom and gloom. Their projection for the U.S. market at the close of the year remains around 16 million vehicles, slightly down from 2007, but as Lentz noted, “Instead of seeing 2007 as the worst year in the last nine, we think it will be one of the best eleven years in automotive history.”

Continuing, “It wasn’t all that long ago when 16 million cars were seen as an incredible year.” Supporting this approach, he commented on the auto needs of an aging population, the growing younger demographic entering car buying years, low inflation combined with low interest rates, the Fed’s quick responses and Congress’ move to pass a near term stimulus plan. Toyota, he said, “Is optimistic about the future because people love cars!”

To make things better and brighter the automobile industry needs to understand and know how to help consumers through these turbulent times. Findings from the Scan Study by DYG, a research firm specializing in trends and motivations which his company uses, Lentz discussed how America is becoming a Super Saturated Society.

“Today’s consumers are super stressed and overwhelmed by too much information and too many choices. It’s the result of too much information, too many choices, multi-tasking, technological speed, non-stop media coverage and endless choices.”

Responding to the societal changes will require adapting to these changes proactively by eliminating the “hassle” out of car buying by providing low or no maintenance products, offering valet ownership plans, creating a faster, less complicated F&I process and generally, “reducing the time customers spend in dealerships.”

Another area which needs modification and change to meet customers’ needs the actual process of buying and servicing a car and making the time they do spend in a dealership more enjoyable. Both Toyota and Lexus the past year have urged their dealers to upgrade and improve facilities which add to the ambiance, comfort and convenience of a visit to a dealer’s store.

Next, Toyota’s president hit on improving the service department, “We were able to prove a direct link between a good service department experience and future car sales. To do this, each service call should be viewed as an opportunity to solve a problem by evidencing initiative and expertise that will be remembered.”

Lentz also chided his company for “causing needless confusion among dealers and customers by assigning different names to the same set of specs on a vehicle.” He said, “The goal is to weed-out and eliminate these inconsistencies and create a simple, common language everyone can understand.”

Alluding to the magic dust, Lentz cited the feeling that Toyota dealers are the company’s closest business partners. As such, “We try to get their feedback before making any major moves. All that give and take played out over 50 years has created a priceless trust that is the foundation of our success.”

Lentz ended his remarks by encouraging the audience to stay active in the AIADA and say involved with the legislative process in Washington. “Congress is always working on issues that can affect our business and we need your help to make sure our voice is heard. This made a huge difference last year before the crucial vote on the CAFE bill.”

The year ahead, he emphasized, is critical to the automobile industry on issues regarding vehicle safety, free trade, climate change, and the state-by-state movement to further regulate greenhouse gases. The importance of the election of a new president and new Congress will have major ramifications on our future.

“So, this is no time to be timid, lose focus or get complacent. We all need to stay informed, stay active, and stay united to protect our business. There is no magic dust; it’s about hard work and working together.”

Free Price Quotes at

See factory invoices for new Toyota's on

What would insurance be like on an Toyota?

No comments: