VIENNA, Austria -- Although few Europeans seem to notice, Toyota models perform quite well in European measures of customer satisfaction, Andrea Formica, Toyota Europe's vice president of sales and marketing, said Wednesday.
People who don't own Toyota vehicles are simply unaware of the brand's reputation for high quality, he told the Automotive News Europe Congress here. "We're faced with this perception gap, and it's our No. 1 marketing task in Europe to overcome it.
"The challenge is to improve the perception of Toyota among the 97 percent of motorists who don't own a Toyota," Formica said.
The problem stems from the low visibility of Toyotas on European roads, Formica said. There are 20 million Renaults currently on European roads, along with 18 million VWs, 18 million Fords, 15 million Fiats and 13 million Opels. But with only 4 million units in operation in Europe, Toyotas account for only one of every 30 vehicles visible.
Where Toyota's penetration is higher, such as in Scandinavia, it is seen as a top-quality product, noted Formica.
He also noted a contrast to the United States, where one in 10 cars is a Toyota: "In the United States, customers don't have to be sold on the brand," he said. "They know what it stands for. Their challenge there is to attach an emotional content."
So Toyota is moving beyond simple product satisfaction in Europe. "We now lead customer satisfaction measures in most European markets, mainly through our cars," Formica said. "Now we have to improve our retail operations to consistently develop superior quality at all levels, and we're now tracking only complete customer satisfaction."
Formica said that only the highest levels of customer satisfaction would lead a customer to purchase another Toyota or to recommend the brand to someone else.
As part of its mission to improve quality at all levels, Toyota is using selected dealerships to try out new ideas and improve business practices. Toyota will borrow techniques from its Toyota Production System to further improve the efficiency of the retail network, he said.
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