General manager of trucks, Toyota Motor North America
Big break: Coming to the U.S. from Australia on a temporary assignment to work on pickups
As a kid growing up in Australia, Marcus Umlauff had a long-distance infatuation with pickups — specifically, big, American, full-size pickups. They’ve been a guiding light throughout his career, and now he finds himself helping Toyota Motor North America run its body-on-frame pickups and SUVs.
“I’ve always loved trucks with a passion since I was tiny,” Umlauff said. “I mean, if you love the auto industry and you love trucks, then really, the U.S. market is the one and only place to be.”
In his role, Umlauff is responsible for bringing together resources across Toyota Motor North America with a single focus on the success of trucks, including product planning, marketing, sales, accessories, service, regional operations, motorsport, legal and other areas.
Umlauff began his career with Ford Australia and joined Toyota Australia a short time later, ultimately doing a temporary two-year assignment with Toyota in the U.S. beginning in 2015. After that, he says, he was hooked. Umlauff resigned from Toyota Australia and was hired on at Toyota Motor North America nearly five years ago, working with pickups and SUVs as the automaker prepared for the overdue redesign of what it calls the “Four Brothers”: the Tundra, Sequoia, Tacoma and 4Runner.
Umlauff says his outsider’s view of how Americans and others use their pickups and SUVs has proved valuable.
“I’ve always tried to take the approach that I don’t know what I don’t know. It’s really good to go in with a healthy curiosity to learn about what different customers do with their vehicles, and honestly, there’s no such thing as a typical American truck customer,” Umlauff said. “They’re all totally different, and there’s a certain regional nature to it as well. The advantage that I had is that I came at it with a natural outsider’s viewpoint because everything was different” from Australia.
“There is no other segment that has evolved as much and as aggressively as full-size trucks,” Umlauff said. “Full-sized trucks are there because of what people do with them,” such as towing and hauling their boats, campers, tools and toys. “Customers are still going to want to do that, and they love their trucks so much that [full-size trucks] will evolve to continue to be able to do those things, even as the technology changes.”
With his wife and two sons with him in Texas, Umlauff said his family back in Australia is happy about his success in finding a job doing something that he loves.
“They know me well enough to know where my heart lies,” Umlauff said, “and that I’ve found my happy place here.”
— Larry P. Vellequette