Truck Trend Interview: Bill Fay, Toyota Division Group Vice President and General Manager
Q&A with Toyota Vice President on Tacoma, Tundra and a TRD PRO Lifestyle
In just a few months, we will get our hands on a 2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro and will be able see first hand just how bad ass Toyota was able to make it. Prior to getting this truck in for review, we look back to an interview with Toyota’s Group Vice President and General Manager, Toyota Division Bill Fay. Our interview was after the unveiling last month at the 2016 Chicago Auto Show and we asked about the demand for trucks, pricing of them and how much the Tacoma is a lifestyle truck more than anything else.
Truck Trend: What are you doing about the ongoing demand for pickups?
Bill Fay: San Antonio just hired 300 workers they are putting on the line and once that is up and running, it will mean another 12,000 pickups for the rest of the year. That’s probably still not enough. We continue to work with our manufacturing partners to do whatever we can to meet consumer demand.
TT: What makes this show (Chicago Auto Show) a good truck show for you?
BF: We have always brought trucks here. It is our truck show for us. It is an opportunity market here in the midwest. Our trucks do well here and they even do better in other parts of the country. It has turned into a nice show to highlight our products and continue to make truck sales growth in the midwest.
TT: You mentioned earlier 190,000 Tacoma trucks this year?
BF: There about. We are flexible in San Antonio to Tacomas to Tundras and Tundras to Tacomas, so as long as the Tacoma continues to launch and do well like it has since the fourth quarter of last year. We will continue to push a lot of that production over to Tacoma.
TT: What’s the overall plant capacity in San Antonio?
BF: It’s about 200,000. They are probably building about 230,000 now with overtime and Saturday shifts. They will be able to raise that some with the investment of the 300 workers.
We also build Tacoma in Baja, Mexico and that’s 90,000-100,000 units a year, so between the two and a little bit of export that’s where we get our total truck numbers.
TT: What do you think about with the criticism of Toyota of not offering enough technology in the trucks, variety in trucks like heavy duty and diesel? Do you think that’s fair criticism?
BF: I’m telling you the feedback we get back from owners and consumers is that they love our trucks. They would like us to expand the truck offerings especially in full-size pickups and you know, that’s the future pipeline plans everybody studies and works for. As a sales guy, I’d love to have as many different kinds of trucks as possible. You know, we could engage the sales team and go to work and sell more trucks.
What we offer? I think there is a high level of satisfaction among our owners with the truck brand and the truck product. There obviously are some who would like to see us expand especially on the full-size pickup front into more than what we have today.
TT: Are you hearing the same thing from dealers as well?
TT: Do you think Akio Toyoda giving North America more control over their product options is going to help push towards more full-size trucks? Or do you think it is still the cultural differences with Japan not understanding the full-size truck market?
BF: I think as they give more and more autonomy to North America that is only going to help us in areas like that. They don’t sell a Tacoma or Tundra in Japan. But, it’s a big part of the overall industry here. They recognize that and understand that. But, I think as they give us some more autonomy in North America, we will be able to continue to develop and work on some of the opportunities we have in that truck strategy.
TT: Have you reached a price ceiling yet on full-size luxury trucks and even mid-size luxury trucks? Are you seeing average truck sales going up like other manufactures?
BF: They are up quite a bit on the 2016 Tacoma. Probably 3-4,000 dollars. But, I think that is just an indication that consumers like the truck and are willing to pay for the improvements we made in the truck.
The same with Tundra on a lesser degree. I think it is a little bit of the market dynamics. The industry is very strong and is skewed towards light truck (trucks and SUVs) and pickups are doing very well. That is an indication people want to buy trucks and are willing to pay for them and are able to pay for them.
TT: On that same thought, GMC is coming out with their Denali version of their Canyon. Who would have thought someone would pay $45k for a mid-size truck? These days it doesn’t seem like you can put enough luxury features in a truck that customers aren’t saying no to it.
BF: Not all of them will buy at that level, but there is certainly enough that are in the market and want those premium features and are able and willing to pay for them.
TT: Are you guys going to be surprised to see other trucks like Mercedes-Benz coming out with their 1-ton truck? Are you watching that closely to see how luxurious they are going to get?
BF: Yeah, we got people watching everything going on. You can’t take a day off in this business.
TT: Did anything surprise you with the 2016 Tacoma trucks on the dealer lots? Did the TRD Off-Road versus the Sport trim level mix?
BF: It’s even a bit higher than we thought. Not by a lot, but its over 50 percent of what we are selling in either the TRD Sport or Off-Road.
TT: Do you think that is from dealers demanding that kind of trim level? Is that what they are ordering?
BF: I think it is more inline with that’s what the customers want to come in and buy. We very much have this truck integrated into lifestyles and what they do with trucks. A core part of our Tacoma owners like to go off-roading, they like to go camping, they like to go hunting and fishing. They like to use their truck as part of their life. That was a big part of the way we marketed this truck and I think because of that we have been able to leverage some of the brand attributes of TRD into this truck. It has become a core part of this truck.
If we can engage into their lifestyle and have this truck be part of it, then I think we win because it becomes more of an emotional connection with our owners which in a long-run is going to help our brand and help Tacoma.