Toyota vows more diversity

Nearly three months after the Rev. Jesse Jackson first threatened a boycott due to what he called a 'culturally insensitive' advertisement, Toyota pledged Thursday, Aug. 9, to commit $7.8 billion in the next decade to help minority suppliers and dealers.

Toyota's spending will include:

* $700 million annually on minority-owned suppliers. The company spent $400 million on minority suppliers in 2000 and expects to spend $600 million this year.

* $50 million per year on minority advertising firms, up from $36.5 million in 2001. Toyota also will hire a black agency to join its two agencies by Sept. 1.

* $25 million annually, up from $15 million in 2001, for its dealer development financial assistance budget. The company has pledged to increase its number of minority dealers by four to six per year over the decade. Toyota also will spend an unspecified amount on community and philanthropy programs.

The automaker entered into discussions with Jackson and the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition after Jackson expressed outrage at a postcard ad that depicted a black person's smiling mouth with a gold picture of a Toyota RAV4 on a front tooth.

'Reverend Jackson opened our eyes,' Toyota spokesman Irv Miller said. 'We looked at what we were doing' and decided to 'go beyond and see if we can go farther.'

Sheila Vaden-Williams, president of the 550-member National Association of Minority Automobile Dealers, doesn't think Toyota has gone far enough with its plan for minority-owned dealership growth.

'Programs have beginnings and ends, and many times have a ceiling,' said Vaden-Williams. 'We think four to six dealerships per year should be the floor.'

Jackson often has made reference to a lack of minorities on the 13-man board of directors at Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc., as well as among Toyota dealers.

'We need to be more aware, to increase our dealer representation,' Miller said, though stressing that minorities own 4.6 percent of Toyota dealerships, the second highest among automakers.

Sanford Woods, first vice chairman of the minority dealers association, pointed to Toyota's Stargate program as a successful model.

The program searches the ranks of Toyota's dealerships for candidates with the potential to advance. Those candidates are then trained and mentored until they are able to assume new responsibilities.

Said Woods: 'Everybody can't be a dealer, but if you look inside the dealer organizations, there is a lot of (minority) talent.

Staff Reporter Arlena Sawyers contributed to this report.

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