TOKYO -- With Latin America's economy imploding around him, Toyota Motor Corp.'s regional CEO had two choices.
"We could wring our hands about the things we can't control or we get creative and rise to the challenge," recalled Steve St. Angelo, the U.S. manufacturing veteran tapped in 2013 to turn Toyota and Lexus from also-rans to top contenders in Latin America.
To get creative, St. Angelo turned to the pages of Automotive News.
St. Angelo, inspired by this publication's dealership Best Practices series, challenged his Latin American dealerships to brainstorm ways to improve retailing.
Toyota Motor is just beginning to crack the Latin American market, and one way to gain traction is to improve its dealership network there.
St. Angelo didn't balk at tapping advice from competitors. Nor did he flinch at pushing Latin American dealers and salespeople -- many of whom do not speak English -- out of their comfort zones. So they were required to read a 48-page Best Practices supplement that Automotive News and Ally Financial produced last year, adopt one idea and rework it for Latin America.
At a Nov. 18 awards ceremony in Tokyo, St. Angelo celebrated the top 10 of some 400 best practices that the company's local dealerships are rolling out.
The finalists launched self-improvement programs covering everything from new delivery centers and charity outreach programs to special accessory packaging and solar-panel roofing. The winners came from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Paraguay and Peru.
Inspiration came from the best practices of American dealers selling vehicles from Hyundai, Nissan, Buick, Porsche, Ford, Chevrolet, Honda, Volvo, Cadillac, Lincoln and Infiniti. One company's brands were conspicuously absent from the list of U.S. dealerships whose best practices were tapped: Toyota Motor.
"We can learn from each other, but we can also learn from our competitors," St. Angelo said. "They had to go to the magazine to break the paradigm.
"I want us to stay humble and realize there is always a different, better way of doing things."
St. Angelo's gambit aims to strengthen Toyota Motor's operations as it battles Latin America's economic slowdown. It also serves notice to rival manufacturers that the world's biggest automaker is getting serious about a market it has long neglected but one in which it sees tremendous growth potential.