By all measures, it should have been a great year for Toyota Motor Company. The Japanese automaker wrapped up 2008 fulfilling its long-held goal of besting its American rival, General Motors Corporation, to become the world’s best-selling automaker, a push driven, in part, by the huge success of its Prius hybrid-electric vehicle.
But as the new year began, things didn’t quite look so good. In the critical U.S. market, Toyota began posting sales declines nearly as severe as GM – with Prius sales off by more than two-thirds of its mid-’08 peak. That, in turn, has helped the maker rack up global losses that are expected to top $4 billion for the fiscal year, which wrapped up on March 31st.
While Toyota has shaken up its corporate management back in Japan, much of the effort of turning things around has been focused on the wide open U.S., which accounts for the bulk of its profits. No wonder that Jim Lentz, president of Toyota Motor Sales USA is working a near 24/7 schedule. TheDetroitBureau.com’s Paul A. Eisenstein caught up with the surprisingly youthful senior executive as he raced from a product unveiling, at the New York International Auto Show, to catch yet another flight.