NEW YORK -- Lexus Group was rechristened Lexus International in June 2012 in an effort to lend an air of worldwide reach and urbane globalism.
Today its 70 dedicated employees, in sales, marketing and product planning, include 17 people from 10 countries other than Japan. The marketing team is based in Torrance, Calif., not Japan.
Despite efforts to internationalize the brand, there is still one big hurdle: The limited allure of the company's bland industrial hometown of Toyota City.
Akio Toyoda, president of Toyota Motor Corp., concedes that cultivating overseas talent is a problem because foreign executives often don't want to live in the Japanese backwater.
"It is difficult," Toyoda said in a recent interview at a Lexus event here. "When foreigners live in Japan, they consider various things such as their family life. Like if there are schools, enough infrastructure to allow them to spend weekends comfortably."
Japanese executives cited one instance in which a Toyota Motor Europe executive declined to work at headquarters because there was no French school in the Aichi region around Toyota City.
"I think there is a need for Japanese headquarters to step up and internationalize," Toyoda said.
Toyota is confronting the problem as it races to promote non-Japanese executives to more senior global roles. In a management reorganization unveiled in March, Toyoda appointed non-Japanese CEOs to lead operations in North America, South America, Europe and Africa. He also appointed the company's first outside director from the United States to the company's board.
Among those appointed in March was Mark Templin, Lexus International's new executive vice president. He is the first non-Japanese executive to lead a Toyota division in Toyota City.
Still, only a handful of foreign Toyota employees work for extended periods at the sprawling headquarters campus.
In the age of globalization, Toyota needs to better leverage its overseas talent pools, the CEO said.
"The best way forward for Toyota now," Toyoda said, "is to tap executives who were cultivated in the United States and use their cooperation and expertise globally."