TOYOTA PLANS to radically alter its European distribution system by taking away much of the administrative and financial burden from the dealer network.
'The current way we do business is senseless,' said Juan Jose Diaz Ruiz, Toyota's European sales and marketing director. 'Customers often get better attention buying a hamburger than buying a £40,000 ($64,500) car.
'Manufacturers give dealers responsibilities that they should handle themselves,' he said. 'Dealers are so burdened with stock control, systems and financial management - things they don't always do well - that they don't have enough time for their real role: customer care.'
Toyota consistently does well in customer satisfaction surveys, but Diaz Ruiz says there is room for improvement in the way the dealer network operates. He said manufacturers should do much more to reduce the burden.
Former Daimler-Benz executive Ludo van der Velde has been hired to head the new distribution program, which Toyota has named Europe 21. Van der Velde joined on 1 September.
The aim of Europe 21 is to 'define car retailing for the next century,' said Diaz Ruiz. He gave no details, but said the program is intended to streamline and integrate the supply chain from customer through dealer to factory and suppliers.
'Toyota will take on more responsibility and leave the dealer to take care of the customer,' he said. 'We want to create a customer-driven environment with the emphasis on speed, efficiency, choice and convenience.'
Diaz Ruiz, who joined Toyota from Audi last year, compared the planned changes with the dry cleaning industry, where shops are now simply customer-facing operations. The actual cleaning work is done off-site at a central facility, with deliveries back to the shop.
The moves are parallel with attempts to introduce pan-European marketing and brand image programs for Toyota across Europe. Diaz Ruiz introduced the same concept at Audi, based on a 'sounding board' of European distributors at monthly meetings.
There will also be attempts to change the Toyota customer mix by attracting more young people and women to the marque.