It was definitely not the sort of reception Toyota executives were anticipating – but it was a clear eye-opener when they took a prototype of the all-new Camry sedan to show U.S. dealer during the spring of 2010.
“They were not thrilled,” admits Jim Lentz, Toyota’s top U.S. executive. “They wanted an extra 10%,” especially when it came to what Lentz now admits was a dull exterior design. “So, that’s what we gave them.”
The meeting led to some dramatic changes to what was launched, several months ago, as the 2012 Toyota Camry – the final production version of the sedan getting new front and rear fascias, rockers and tail lamps as well as some modest interior tweaks.
But more importantly, the face-off with dealers has led Toyota to think differently about what it brings to market, says Lentz. “Staying closer to our dealers (gets us) much closer to our customers,” he explains, adding that the message learned is that Toyota cannot simply market itself as a company producing high-quality cars anymore.