Tuesday, January 10, 2006
Detroit Auto Show Day 2
Unlike Chrysler, GM or Ford, Toyota's press conferences are short on tangential entertainment value. I'm going to throw deep here and suggest that this is perfectly in character. Chrysler likes to swing for fences with its product bets and its press conferences reflect the go for broke approach (Eva Longoria and Angie Harmon on stage with former engineers?!); GM and Ford are not afraid to compete with Chrysler's lights, glitz and comedy. But Toyota? Toyota quietly sneaks up with metronomic efficiency. Or to use one of my earlier analogies they are very "Belichik" - like (Patriots football coach - dry as sandpaper...but folks in New England like the results). Every day is spent finding ways to continuously improve with a selfless focus on the team effort. One could accuse them of winning through "boring" efficiency. But for those of us who have had "exciting" cars that lose parts as they drive down the highway...we know why "boring" efficiency, quality and predictability attract such high repurchase loyalty and resale values.
The core of Toyota's middle market sales and quality success is best defined by the Camry. Camry (and Accord) have been the stake in the heart of the domestic car business. Although many domestics benchmark Camry as a target, few bother to actually engineer to beat it. Most see it as a noble goal, but not one worth attaining due to the "negative" short term cost impact. Most appear to see passing Camry as overreaching and prefer instead to target the "wounded" gazelles in the car herd. So, it's not surprising that many domestics saw evidence of Toyota widening its lead with the 2007 Toyota Camry. Continuous improvement touches many different areas, but the most symbolic enhancement is the addition of hybrid drive in the mainstream, market leading sedan. Per Robert Farago, The Truth About Cars, I did check to make sure that there was a battery behind the rear seats. Note photographic evidence.
I waxed poetically to several others willing to listen about the good old days when Ford, GM and Chrysler built hybrids as part of a Government contract in the 90's before the research dollars moved into more profitable ventures -- building full size SUVs (while the Japanese quietly picked up the hybrid flag). Now, Camry sports not just class leading power, refinement and fuel efficiency with its line of engines but enters the avant-garde hybrid elite with Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive. One auto exec. was purported to comment that if the Nissan designers ever went to Toyota, game over. One man's view of the 2007 Camry -- It's still boring...but its customers wouldn't have it any other way.