LOS ANGELES - While American Honda dithers over whether to get back into the aftermarket accessories business, Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. is building a formidable franchise for hopping up its vehicles.
Toyota Racing Development, which operates from a nondescript light-industrial building in Tustin, Calif., develops and markets everything from superchargers for 4Runners to lower springs for Celicas. The building houses four dynamometers, a prototype machine shop, an engine studio and several specialized workshops.
Projects from Toyota Racing Development include a supercharger for the Lexus IS 300 - the first performance add-on to the 'L-Tuned' Lexus lineup - and a supercharger for the Tundra V-8 engine coming in the fall.
The unit got its start building racing engines for the automaker's nascent entry into Championship Auto Racing Teams competition.
But with the market for street-legal performance parts booming, Toyota gave Toyota Racing Development seed money to build a bootstraps operation. It has paid off: In the aftermarket unit's five-year history, sport parts sales have increased by 50 percent every year.
The unit expects to reach $50 million in annual revenue in the next two or three years, said Gary Reed, Toyota Racing Development senior manager of sales and marketing.
A crucial element in the unit's success is that its parts carry Toyota's factory warranty. Toyota also will pay for replacing any stock part that is damaged by a faulty Toyota Racing Development part, Reed said.
'That's the one thing dealers insisted on. It had to have the same as a factory warranty,' he said.
Despite the factory backing, the unit doesn't manufacture most of the parts it sells. It engineers and blueprints them, but it outsources assembly to such aftermarket shops as Eaton, Eibach, Bilstein and HKS.
'Five years ago, if someone wanted a performance exhaust for their Tacoma, the last place they would go was the Toyota dealer. But TRD has good products and our reputation is spreading. Now the dealer is one of the top places to go,' Reed said.
'Now maybe the customer will also buy an oil filter or get a tune-up while he's at the dealership. There's no doubt we've increased traffic at the dealers,' he said.
For consumers willing to sacrifice their warranties in exchange for even more performance, Toyota Racing Development offers the 'Kazuma extreme performance' brand.
To save confusion on the showroom floor, Kazuma parts are available direct only from Toyota Racing Development and not through dealers. Demand for the unit's parts is so great that the Kazuma project has been put on the back burner until Toyota Racing Development can get more resources to handle both lines.
Reed admits to being surprised by Toyota Racing Development's growth, given Toyota's dearth of sporty products when the unit was launched. But with Toyota and Lexus launching products and engine families seemingly every month, the prospects of luring hot-rod clients seems to be improving, he said.
'We didn't have great cars to work with when we started, but we knew what was coming - the new Celica, the MR2 Spyder, the IS 300,' said Reed, his mind already working on his next project. 'It sure would be fun to drop a Supra twin-turbo engine into an IS 300.'