SALTA, Argentina -- When the dust-encrusted convoy of Toyota trucks finally pulled into town after a day of off-roading Dakar Rally-style through dry riverbeds, drivers got an earful.
Stopping at dealerships is part and parcel for their three-and-a-half-month trans-continental cavalcade. And so is hearing from customers about Toyota products, both the good and bad.
At Autolux SA, the only Toyota store in this town nestled in the foothills of the Andes, the visiting Japanese motorcade members crowded around as customers imparted their experiences with the popular Hilux pickup sold in emerging markets.
But it was the criticism that fired the greatest interest.
Standing in the Autolux service bay, the Toyota technicians scrupulously scribbled every word on clipboards and notepads. They barraged the customers with follow-up questions.
And they snapped away at the customers' vehicles from every angle to take home photographic evidence.
"I will do my best to address the problem you raised when I return to Japan," one pledged.
Then they were off again on their radical road trip. Destination: the arid mountaintop salt plains hovering 13,000 feet above in the red-rocked ridges that ring the city, pushing through thin air that punishes both man and machine.
For the crew of Toyota engineers, product planners and sales managers, this trek is the ultimate expression of Toyota Motor Corp.'s seemingly nebulous quest for "ever-better cars."
Their mission: Drive and survive some of earth's most punishing roads, then return to their r&d labs and office cubicles to channel that experience into the next generation of vehicles.