Like other automakers, Toyota Motor Corp. is not sure how it will use the Internet to sell cars. But it wants its franchised dealers to help answer the question.
'We want to approach the Internet in a partnership with our dealers,' said Toyota President Fujio Cho.
'We want to work with the dealers and get them to help us come up with a new approach. In whatever we do, it's important that there be trust.'
Cho vowed that Toyota will not try to sell vehicles directly to customers on the Web.
Cho was a keynote dinner speaker at the J.D. Power and Associates International Automotive Roundtable. He discussed Toyota's plan of attack on the Internet after the dinner.
Cho said Toyota's U.S. sales subsidiary, Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc., is experimenting with a joint factory-dealer Web system. The company expects to unveil a nationwide system later this year.
Currently, the automaker is testing the system in Seattle, Atlanta and some Florida markets, Cho said. Toyota has been studying the Internet shopping network developed by one of its two independent U.S. distribution companies, Southeast Toyota Distributors Inc. of Deerfield Beach, Fla.
Southeast Toyota distributes Toyota cars and services in Florida, Georgia, Alabama and the Carolinas. The independent company has been selling cars on the Internet for three years in a way that may become the standard Toyota method.
Customers who reach the Southeast Toyota Web site are moved seamlessly from Web site to Web site within the network. The distributor is responsible for 160 Toyota dealers in its five-state territory.
Cho said it will be important for Internet shoppers to find a seamless process when dealing with Toyota online and moving between factory and dealerships.
The issue of the factory's involvement in Internet sales has been a key topic at recent NADA conventions. Many franchised retailers are curious about what role their manufacturers will play in directing sales leads and helping with purchases.