Press sees gains in trucks, hybrids

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Don't let Jim Press fool you. The exec VP-chief operating officer of Toyota Motor Sales USA may have a demeanor that auto insiders compare to the laid-back actor Fred MacMurray, but this 34-year Toyota veteran is a fierce competitor.

You won't hear Mr. Press, 57, brag about Toyota's or his own accomplishments, even though under his watch the Japanese automaker has been steadily increasing its annual sales, passing 2 million vehicles for the first time in the U.S. last year. And that record was 10.4% higher than 2003 unit sales. Mr. Press recently sat down to chat with Jean Halliday, Advertising Age's Detroit bureau chief.

Advertising Age: What are your projections for Toyota's 2005 vehicle sales in the U.S.?

Jim Press: We'll be up around 3%-4% compared with last year. We had a higher growth rate last year. We benefited from the [national] rollout of Scion. We had a real good pickup in Prius [sales], and also Sienna [minivan] was up about 50%.

I think this year can be a more competitive year, and there may not be as much industry growth. I anticipate a lot more difficulty achieving our sales growth, so it's more modest.

AA: Where is your growth coming from?

Mr. Press: A couple of places. We'll get some growth from [the redone 2005] Avalon [sedan]. We'll get more growth from the hybrids, not just Prius-we'll also have the [Lexus] RX and the [Toyota] Highlander. We'll get some growth with Tacoma [compact pickup]. It just launched. It's really been very successful. We've sold way over our plans for the first two months of sales for the vehicle.

There's still growth potential that exists in some of our other segments. Tundra will probably be up. On the other hand, some other lines may decline a little bit.

AA: Like what?

Mr. Press: There's a lot of pressure on the Camry segment. As customers leave for trucks and smaller cars, the [midsize sedan] segment is actually getting smaller and getting a lot more intense. The era of having those big 400,000-plus, single-model volumes is going to be behind us because there are so many nameplates, so much pressure and at some point you are maintaining the volume for ego as opposed to for business.

AA: How are you reinventing Toyota in the U.S.?

Mr. Press: There's a number of ways we're reinventing ourselves in the United States. An attempt was made to enter the youth market and the fact that we have had an aging demographic. We see the potential of the coming generation.

We really need to do with the next generation what we did with baby boomers, and part of the process is reinventing ourselves through Scion. And Scion has been very successful. We have a lower share of the truck market than we like, especially full-size pickups, so we are reinventing the Tundra.

AA: Toyota Division has talked about improving customer service at dealerships for at least five years, but the division's scores with J.D. Power & Associates haven't improved. What are you doing there?

Mr. Press: We have a master program under way to upgrade the experiences the customers have in dealerships. Customer satisfaction is an issue that never goes away. You always want to have a higher level of satisfaction.

AA: What's your reaction to experts who say your advertising, specifically for Toyota, hasn't lived up to the products? And how do you like the new "Moving forward"-themed ads for Toyota?

Mr. Press: I love the new campaign. The best way to measure the success is look at the research results, the post-test. That's the most objective measurement, and in that regard we've done really well with the new pool.

AA: What could stop or slow Toyota's U.S. growth?

Mr. Press: Believing in our own headlines, becoming arrogant, forgetting the core DNA of the company-the Toyota Way-losing sight that the customer comes first, becoming complacent.

AA: What's Toyota's secret weapon?

Mr. Press: Mrs. Jones.

AA: Mrs. Jones?

Mr. Press: Mrs. Jones is our customer. She's our secret weapon. We all work for her. We don't work for ourselves. We are really committed to her and to improving her way of life.

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