It was a scene that would have been worth the price of admission: Bob McCurry, the blunt-spoken executive vice president of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. looking at the initial designs for the 1992 Camry and demanding that Toyota make changes.
It was 1989, a year after the first-generation Camry had gone into production in Georgetown, Ky., and just before the Lexus brand was to launch. The Japanese executives were confident about their performance in the United States to that point — but then they had to face some tough talk from their top U.S. executive.
McCurry wanted a vehicle suited to American tastes, not the traditional low-key Japan-sized model he saw in the designs. There is no explicit record of what the Japanese had to say about McCurry's forceful way of making demands — a dramatic departure from the way things typically were done in Japan. Yoshio Ishizaka, senior vice president and chief coordinating officer of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. at the time, says only: "Some were very much offended by McCurry's comments. Americans like a big car. Always, American opinion is the bigger, the better. That's a very simplified argument."
McCurry later told the Los Angeles Times that he didn't think his direct approach really bothered the Japanese. "I'm a dealer-oriented guy," McCurry told the paper, "and that was a new arena for them. The aggressiveness didn't bother them. They learned a new mode of operating, and I think they respected that."
The Japanese staff might have gotten used to McCurry's style, but the push and pull over the Camry took its toll.
"We really stressed out the chief engineer," says Chris Hostetter, 52, vice president of advanced product strategy and product planning at Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. "I think we worked him into a heart attack or a stroke or something. We dragged these guys out and took them on dealer visits and midnight focus groups. Then we'd grind them on the concept back at headquarters."