SHANGHAI — For Toyota in China, the new mantra is learn from America to catch up with America.
Toyota Motor Corp. is now benchmarking its own U.S. success story in an effort to repeat the winning formula in the world's biggest auto market. Toyota's goal is for its China business to someday surpass its U.S. business as the automaker's volume leader, said Dong Changzheng, executive vice president of Toyota's China operation.
"This is what we are working hard on," Dong said last week at the Shanghai auto show.
Toyota's focus comes as the China market increasingly tops the sales charts for other Japanese automakers. As early as 2017, Mazda Motor Corp. and Mitsubishi Motors Corp. sold more vehicles in China than in the U.S., where both companies have toiled for decades.
Nissan also sells more in China, and Honda is now on the cusp of doing so.
But for Toyota, China is still the third-biggest market and sales have a long way to go to catch up with U.S. retailers. Dong expects Toyota's sales in China to expand 8 percent to 1.6 million vehicles in 2019, compared with 2.43 million U.S. sales last year, and 1.89 million in Japan.
Dong said Toyota China is studying Toyota Motor North America's best practices to quickly catch up, including the unit's reliance on localized product development and better dealer operations.
"I see the benchmark as North America," Dong said.
"Products in the North American market were mainly developed by North America. So r&d has been heavily localized," he said. The China operations have an opportunity to take the lead in developing vehicles for the local market, especially EVs, he added.
China also wants to absorb more ideas on customer service.
One opportunity is in loaner cars. Dealers in China typically don't provide customers with free loaner cars when they bring vehicles in for service, Dong said.
"In the future, we will further learn from North America," Dong said. "It takes time to develop best practices."