LOS ANGELES - Toyota will begin a nationwide training course for all dealership finance and insurance managers this fall.
While Toyota typically scores well on product quality, it receives below-average marks in sales satisfaction and F&I transactions, according to surveys by J.D. Power and Associates.
The training will center around a five-day seminar conducted at Toyota's corporate campus in Los Angeles.
Called Toyota Quality Financial Management, the new F&I training is a joint effort by Toyota Motor Credit Corp. and Toyota Motor Insurance Services. Training is scheduled to begin in October. After the program is tested by Toyota Division, it will be opened to Lexus dealers.
First, Toyota's field staff will test dealership F&I managers to make sure they understand the basics of their jobs. If they 'test out,' they will be sent to the five-day seminar in Los Angeles. If they do not pass the test, they will take crash courses at the dealership until they are qualified to attend the seminar.
Following the course, F&I managers should be able to personalize a financing package for each customer.
'The problem is not with the F&I department (as a concept), it's with the process. The managers just aren't skilled enough,' said Mike Wells, national financial services development manager for the program.
SETTING IT UP
Factory-sponsored F&I training is nothing new. General Motors Acceptance Corp. and Ford Motor Credit Co. have been doing it for years. In fact, Mike Zewalk, GMAC's director of educational services, said GMAC consulted with Toyota on its curriculum.
Also, the most recent J.D. Power Consumer Financing Satisfaction Study was used to formulate the standards of the program.
Day one of the seminar will deal with CSI. Each participant will try to sell a non-automotive product so they can better understand the confusion of someone entering the F&I office for the first time. It also will enable instructors to teach better salesmanship, by teaching the F&I managers to listen rather than dump information on a hapless customer, Wells said.
The remainder of the course will teach products, services, working with lenders, listening skills, cash and credit union conversions.
One group of 18 to 20 managers will be taught each week. It could take as long as a year to train F&I managers from all 1,189 Toyota dealerships. The processes then will be installed at the dealerships with follow-up visits by Toyota's field staff.
KEY ROLE IN SALES
Toyota examined the F&I practices of the Big 3, AutoNation and CarMax. Consumer research was done by Art Spinella of CNW Marketing Research in Bandon, Ore. Toyota's business partner for the F&I training program is Sandy Corp.
Spinella said too many F&I training courses dwell on the hot issue of the day - leasing or balloon-note financing, for instance. But it's very rare to offer training on the whole process of being an F&I manager, he said.
Added Wells: 'F&I should be timely, value-added and concise. It has a key role in overall sales satisfaction.'
With Toyota's new system, the F&I manager will walk the customer through the entire array of financial services available.
Might this be just another way for Toyota to push its own F&I programs on dealers? Wells admitted that higher penetration might be a side benefit, but he insisted that is not the goal.
'We'd like dealers to sell factory-backed programs, but some won't,' he said. ' But they will be better at whatever they sell.'