DETROIT — Yoshi Inaba has discovered a much different Toyota in North America than the juggernaut he left behind six years ago. Among the first things to get his attention was the need to recharge Lexus and Scion.
Lexus is "my personal challenge," the outspoken 63-year-old executive said last week in a meeting with reporters in Detroit.
And he added: "One of my jobs is to revive the Scion spirit in the United States."
Inaba has returned as president and COO of Toyota Motor North America Inc. after running Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. from 1999 to 2003. He retired from the automaker in 2007 but was brought back as part of the management team installed by Toyota Motor Corp.'s new CEO, Akio Toyoda.
Inaba said he will review "what Lexus is in this country."
After outselling BMW and Mercedes for nine straight years, Lexus has drifted back in the luxury import pack in 2009. Lexus is down 34.1 percent for the first six months compared with 2008 and has been hit harder than its two main rivals.
"Business is OK, it is profitable," Inaba said. "But what is the next phase of Lexus? That is what we need to identify."
Inaba put his stamp on Toyota's luxury brand once before.
"When I was here for the first time in 1995, those were the major decisions." It was "time for us to go from only three models for Lexus to SUVs."
The RX crossover came out on his watch — greatly expanding Lexus' volume.
"The RX made a big impact on the direction we were going and it democratized Lexus," Inaba said.