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Friday, February 11th, 2011

Ball In Toyota's Court For New Model Momentum

Even though a federal study finds no evidence that electronic defects account for sudden acceleration in its vehicles, Toyota faces major hurdles restoring its image and market share. A host of new and revamped planned product introductions places the ball in Toyota’s court for revitalized Momentum.

“Customers are walking away with the perception that even though a Toyota is well built, they don’t see it as the next step in design, styling and innovative features,” said Alexander Edwards of Strategic Vision Inc., an automotive research and marketing consulting firm.

That’s a pretty strong customer perception statement and for the first time in years, Ford and Chevrolet brands are eating into Toyota market share and  in some cases, outselling Toyotas.

One example buyer who purchased an SUV last month rejected Toyota after test-driving several makes and models.

“I liked the people at Toyota the best, but the cars lagged a bit, both in styling and acceleration,” the buyer said. She also liked the interior of the SUV she purchased better.

Toyota’s share of the U.S. auto market fell to 15.2 percent last year from 17 percent in 2009. Continued momentum was of course hampered by the recall of millions of vehicles, the record payment of nearly $50 million in federal fines for failing to promptly inform regulators of defects in its vehicles and delaying recalls, and the endless government hearings. It was the only major automaker to log a sales decrease from 2009.

The company is responding with a flood of new products including a new Prius Wagon and new Camry and will launch a new advertising campaign this month that reminds consumers that it remains the top retail car brand in America, a Toyota Management spokesperson said, adding, “You are now going to see a relentless focus on our product.”


Thursday, June 3rd, 2010

Toyota President Akio Toyoda is ordering engineers and designers to spice up the brand’s bland image with exciting new cars. “I want a car that shows what we are aiming for, toyota mr2 hybridsomething affordable, fun to drive and good for the environment,” Toyoda said. He references the MR2 hybrid sports car concept as the kind of product he expects from a new focus on exciting fun.

The 400-horsepower MR2 hybrid is based on the MR2 platform that was nixed from the U.S. market in 2005. When Toyota unveiled the MR2 Sports Hybrid Concept at the Tokyo Auto Salon in January, observers gave it a zero percent chance of being produced.

The MR2 Sports Hybrid Concept combines a 3.3-liter V6, used to drive the rear wheels through a continuously variable transmission, and an electric motor for the front wheels. The concept has an estimated zero-to-60 time under 4.5 seconds.


Mr. Toyoda’s desire for pizazz, excitement, and power, plus economy helps explain why he decided to team up with Tesla Motors. The partnership between Tesla and Toyota creates high-power excitement, but it’s too early to tell as to how product development will advance.

Putting resources into producing M2-like hybrid excitement or co-producing an EV with Tesla could represent a shift in direction, as Toyota reshapes its image after a season of global safety recalls. Creating exciting visionary new products can be great. But the company doesn’t need to throw out the baby with the bathwater. The auto market (and the world) needs mass-market high-efficiency vehicles that meet the needs of everyday drivers.  Their projected One million hybrids per year: Well, there’s nothing bland about that.