When Toyota Motor North America rolled out its SmartPath online selling tools in September for Toyota and Lexus dealers after years of internal development, the automaker obviously didn't know those tools — aimed at allowing consumers to go through much of the buying process from home — would be needed by so many of its U.S. dealers so quickly.
Add in one pandemic to upend both the industry and the world, and all of that preparation begins to pay off.
Toyota is ramping up its plan to roll out SmartPath to dealerships across the U.S. and has doubled its target for first-year dealer participation now that those dealers have seen how integral online selling will be to their businesses.
At 84,694 vehicles, Toyota and Lexus sales in April were nearly double where the Japanese automaker projected it would finish the month, when roughly one-third of the brands' 1,482 rooftops in the U.S. were closed because of state mandates to stem the rise in COVID-19 cases. The credit for that lies with dealers rapidly learning to transact and interact with home-bound consumers, and with infrastructure put in place to ultimately make such interactions the new standard.
"Sometimes, with a little luck, we're ahead of the market," said Bob Carter, head of sales for Toyota Motor North America, after explaining that the "vast majority" of the just-under 80,000 retail Toyota and Lexus sales in the U.S. in April were transacted online and home-delivered.
"Consumers and our dealers have really, really embraced the movement to online selling and home delivery," Carter said. "When we get into a normalized basis, I still hesitate to say it will be the majority, but it will be the new norm. This has really accelerated the movement over to digital online selling."