Consumer Reports decision not to recommend three Toyota vehicles does not signal an end to the companys bulletproof quality reputation, Toyotas U.S. sales chief told Automotive News today.
Jim Lentz, executive vice president of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc., also said the automakers recent loss of three high-profile executives to Chrysler LLC and Ford Motor Co. was not a matter of pay.
Saying that Toyota was showing cracks in its armor after years of sterling reliability, Consumer Reports on Tuesday said it could not recommend consumers purchase the redesigned 2007 V-6 Camry; the four-wheel-drive, V-8 version of the Tundra pickup; or the all-wheel-drive Lexus GS.
Still on top
Lentz said that despite the high-profile rebuff by the respected magazine, the Japanese automaker still placed first in reliability in six of eight categories, and 44 percent of the magazines recommended vehicles are Toyotas.
The bad news from our perspective is we never want to see vehicles on the not recommend list, he said.
Lentz said that because of problems Toyota found with an automatic transmission, he was not surprised the V-6 Camry failed to make the recommended list. He said the problem was with design, not manufacturing, and was quickly corrected.
We knew in the very beginning we had a transmission issue with that vehicle, he said.
The problem caused the vehicle to either get stuck in second gear or shift past second gear roughly. The problem can be traced to a snap ring that holds the transmission housing together.
I dont think its going to have a long-term impact on the overall view of Toyota as a reliable product, Lentz said.
He said he was more puzzled by Consumer Reports decision not to recommend the 4wd Tundra pickup with the V-8 engine and the awd Lexus GS. He said Toyota would have to study the issue.
Toyota has briefed its employees and dealers on the magazines results and assured them it will get to the bottom of the problems.
Well go back as far as we can to isolate what the issue is and correct it, Lentz said.
He said Toyota can still manage its quality effectively despite its rapid growth in the United States.
A brain drain?
Responding to other bad news for the automaker, Lentz said the losses of three top North American executives does not mean Toyota needs to modify its pay structure.
The three departing executives were Jim Press, who had been COO of Toyota Motor North America; Deborah Wahl Meyer, who had been vice president of marketing at Lexus; and Jim Farley, former general manager of Lexus.
All three executives had their own reasons for leaving that were not necessarily related to money, Lentz said.
I dont think its the motivating factor, he said. Was this a shock? Yes. Was it a surprise? Probably not, not when you get down into the real reasons that these folks left.
He said Meyer, who joined Chrysler as chief marketing officer, wanted to move closer to family in the Detroit area.
In the case of Jim Press, the job he was in in New York was really important, but I dont think it was in line with what Jim really wanted to do, he said. Jim really loves the action of being closer to the dealers, and he really couldnt do that from the position.
Press now is co-president of Chrysler, a job that puts him in charge of sales, marketing and product strategy.
Farley, Lentz said, has a passion for Ford Motor Co. and has close family ties to the company. His grandfather was a metallurgist at Fords historic Rouge plant in Dearborn, Mich.
Jim, I think, sees Ford Motor Company and sees an opportunity for him to make a difference to change the direction of Ford Motor Company, Lentz said. He almost, I think, feels an obligation to do that.
Farley now is Fords group vice president of marketing and communications.
Lentz said Toyota already has replaced the departed executives. We have a very deep bench, he said.
I think a lot of people started shopping Toyota, he said. I think the fact that we have been a much higher-profile company in the last few years is a blessing and a curse. The curse part of that is people (competitors) look at our people.
He said Toyotas strength doesnt necessarily lie in its leadership team, however, but with middle management.