While other automakers enter the next century focused on the Internet and dealer consolidation, Toyota is gearing up for the 'customer-in-charge' age and a flood of post-baby boomers.
Toyota is changing the way it retails by creating new dealer tools and new vehicles, said James Press, general manager of the Automotive Operations Group for Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.
Increasingly, consumers are dictating how they will buy vehicles, Press told the Automotive News World Congress. The auto industry no longer can treat each customer the same way and expect positive results, he said.
'Everyone is different, and we need a different approach for every single individual customer.'
Toyota will help its dealers identify various types of customers through its new computer-based Toyota Customer Management System. The system, which Toyota is rolling out to its dealers this year, lets dealers determine individual customer needs.
Press, who oversees the Toyota and Lexus divisions, said pilot testing of the program last year in Philadelphia showed the Toyota Customer Management System made sales presentations more credible and strengthened the bond between customers and dealers.
Toyota is on the lookout for one customer group in particular. Press said a new group of young people - identified as both Generation X and Net Gen - will outnumber the baby boomer generation by 2004.
In 1998 Toyota created the Genesis Group, a team of young and diverse Toyota employees who advise the company on how to win this growing customer segment.
'The Genesis Group is nothing short of the rebirth of our company,' Press said.
Toyota unveiled the first stage of this rebirth this month when it introduced two youth-oriented vehicles: the Echo entry-level car and the XYR concept coupe. After his speech, Press told reporters that Toyota will introduce another youth-oriented image vehicle at the Chicago Auto Show next month.
Press warned against highly publicized auto industry trends. Dealer consolidation and reductions of product platforms mean fewer options for consumers, he said.
Said Press: 'The dangerous aspect of both these trends is that they meet business needs rather than customer needs.'