LOS ANGELES - Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. has reassigned the top two managers responsible for the Genesis group and moved most of the staff into long-range planning projects.
Company officials say these changes were an expected evolution of the group. But others close to Genesis say the automaker is turning its back on the project designed to lure younger buyers to Toyota.
Over the past two years, Toyota has hyped the Genesis group as Generation X free-thinkers charged with shaping the automaker's future, but that seems to have generated some internal resentment over the group's fame and autonomy.
The most visible reassignment was Mark Del Rosso, former manager of Genesis. Del Rosso was promoted to national manager of sales administration, which oversees field sales. Scott Grant, who was the liaison between Genesis and Toyota's market planning department, now is the national manager of truck advertising.
All but three Genesis staffers have been assigned to long-range projects and have been assimilated by the strategic planning department. They report to Brian Bolain, national manager of long-range planning, but will keep their Genesis titles and remain in their Genesis offices, which are separate from the main Toyota building.
The other three staffers are working on the launch of the MR2 Spyder and managing the ongoing Echo and Celica youth marketing initiatives.
Toyota officials insist that the changes were anticipated and part of the natural evolution of Genesis.
Steve Sturm, Toyota vice president of marketing, said: 'Both Echo and Celica have launched successfully. The median ages are down; grosses are up; and we've exceeded the sales plan. And these things came through programs created by our Genesis group. If Genesis didn't work, why wouldn't we just shut it down?
Added Sturm, who is hiring Del Rosso's replacement: 'A couple of people have left the group, but that happens all the time. I'm still looking for Genesis to give us direction with this market. They're still here and giving short-term and long-term visions for the company.'
But others close to the group say the changes show that Genesis is being moved away from having influence on day-to-day operations.
Said a highly placed Toyota source: 'Their role should have been to push the company hard to get additional youth products. But I don't see any new youth product strategy coming. They have not invented a new magic pill to bring in youth.
'The expectations were pretty high to resolve the youth problem. But when they didn't come through as the godsend that was hoped for, people were kind of disappointed,' the source said.
In contrast, Toyota's Virtual Venture Corp. in Japan, on which Genesis was patterned, has had more influence at higher levels of product development.
The products under the Genesis aegis were too far down the pipeline for the group to have a real impact on their development, something Del Rosso and other executives freely admitted in the past. So the Genesis mission was more about helping the advertising agency create a younger-feeling marketing plan for those vehicles.
But in nearly the same time frame, Virtual Venture has developed entire vehicles. It recently unveiled the first car designed under its direction, the WiLL Vi, and now is working on another youth-oriented vehicle for the Japanese market. Virtual Venture also was the driving force behind the creation of MegaWeb, a Toyota-themed amusement park designed for young people. The Toyota source claimed that Genesis never got into its mission of changing Toyota's culture. For example, instead of changing Toyota's Web site, the group created a separate one.
'They don't really get it that Toyota in America doesn't need extra products that happen to be available to market to young buyers,' said the Toyota source. 'They don't need extra production of a European model. They need a youth product from the ground up for American youth.'