LOS ANGELES - Toyota managers solve problems with a method called The Five Whys.
They don't just find out why trouble exists. By asking a series of 'why' questions, they reach down to find the cause of the problem.
In trying to connect with America's younger generations, Toyota might want to ask The Five Hows.
As in, 'How do we do it right?' or 'How did we get in this predicament?'
The Buick-ization of Toyota - its struggles to attract young buyers - has been chronicled ad nauseam. But the question of how Toyota can lure a new generation of customers while maintaining the loyalty of the old generation begs more questions.
In an interview at the press introduction of the 2002 Camry, Jim Press, COO of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc., queried journalists as much as they did him, especially when it came to the subject of making Toyota hip with young buyers.
Although Toyota has said it would announce its youth marketing strategy next month, there are signs the company has found the challenge more complex than creating a couple of snazzy cars and some cool advertisements to go with them. Press says the timetable for announcing the strategy is uncertain.
About the only thing of which Press is certain is that the youth brands will not represent a third channel within Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Existing Toyota dealers, but perhaps not all of them, will carry the youth products.
Press figures he'll use a retail strategy similar to that of the Prius hybrid-powered sedan. Under that program, dealers who signed up went through training and created facilities to carry the additional line.
As Press calls it, 'Same building, different doors.' The doors are symbolic, but the symbolism runs deep. So do the many issues Press is clearly wrestling with as Toyota sorts out its youth strategy:
At the product level: Does the youth brand get exclusive products from the mainstream Toyota line? At what point in product development is that decided? How much authority do the Genesis youth project managers, charged with creating a marketing strategy to entice young buyers, get in product design and development?
At the marketing level: Do the youth products wear the Toyota badge? Does the word 'Toyota' appear on the vehicle? If not, how are the cars badged? Are those vehicles incorporated into Toyota's overall brand advertising?
At the dealership: How do you separate the youth section of the dealership? Do you have different salespeople? Do they dress differently? What happens when shoppers who are looking for a youth product, such as a Celica, decide they want a mainstream Toyota product, such as a 4Runner? Are the youth cars sold over the Internet?
Press knows the challenge of convincing a new generation to walk under a Toyota umbrella favored by baby boomers. By his count, there are 63 million members of the Net generation, and he wants to hook them into a 'custom customer experience.'
As Press sorts out the answers, he knows full well that Toyota sells a lot of Camrys to boomers - and truly connecting with the Net generation could make those numbers a pittance.