Ever since the first Corollas reached America in the late 1960s, Toyota was busy establishing its reputation for reliability and quality. Decade after decade that reputation blossomed and grew placing Toyota near the top of the list for sensible shoppers. Toyotas might not have been as stylish or dynamic as some rivals, but customers felt safe and secure when they chose that brand.
Who could have predicted Toyota’s downfall in 2010—especially since the troublesome issue of mishandled recalls involved basic vehicle safety? Harsh reactions to Toyota’s delay in facing the charges of unintended acceleration, coupled with allegations of insufficient response overall, threatened the Japanese-brand company’s image. Some wondered if the corporation would survive.
Bouncing back looked doubtful, but it began to happen. Over the past year, to the amazement of some observers, Toyota has risen from the ashes of its own destructive response to the recall question. As the year ended, Toyota had fallen in overall sales and market share, but wound up Number One in U.S. car sales.
“We see a very, very bright future ahead,” said Jim Lentz, president/CEO of Toyota Motor Sales. “Demographics” will play a big part in auto sales over the coming years, Lentz told an audience of executives at the Automotive News World Congress in Detroit. The driving-age population is expected to grow by 24 million, Lentz said. By 2015, Generation Y will be fully maturing, with greater need for vehicles.
“Value for the money is the key ingredient,” Lentz advised. But keeping young folks interested is a major challenge.
In years past, obtaining a driver’s license “was a ticket to freedom,” Lentz said. “Today, young people don’t seem as interested in cars.” Many of them care more about the latest smartphone and the most interconnected gadget. In fact, “many see cars as a source of cost ... and pollution.” One way or another, automakers need to make automobiles ”vital to a full and fulfilling life.”
Making vehicles that can meet the 35.5 mpg fuel-economy standard established for 2015 is another hurdle. “We all know that over time, the price of fuel is going to go up,” Lentz said. Yet, America “still has a love affair with trucks and SUVs.” Lentz has “no doubt that we’ll get there.” But it’s a “balancing act.”
Later in January, Toyota–utterly unlike most competitors—had words of praise for the Obama Administration’s farther-off goal: 62 mpg in 2025.
Toyota faced another major recall in January, for defective fuel-pressure sensors in Lexus models. While they’re on an upward trajectory, Toyota’s return path continues into uncharted territory.