After 15 years as a distributor, Takis Athanasopoulos thought he knew Toyota Motor Co. pretty well.
Now that he has been in a top position at Toyota Motor Europe for two of months he concedes, 'I could not have been more wrong.'
Until the beginning of this year Athanasopoulos ran Toyota's Greek distributor.
'Now I realize that while we are one of the world's largest carmakers, we are not a big player in Europe,' he said.
That is going to change. 'We have ambitious plans for Europe,' said Athanasopoulos, two months into his role as chief operatiing officer of Toyota Motor Europe. 'In Japan we have 41 percent of the market, in North America 10 percent, but in Europe it is still only 3.7 percent.'
He wants to push that figure to 5 percent by 2005. Key to achieving the goal is Toyota's new factory at Valenciennes, France. Meanwhile, its Burnaston plant in the English midlands will increase production of the five-door Corolla due to start there soon.
The Burnaston plant produces the Avensis, while Valenciennes, France, produces the Yaris.
Athanasopoulos wants Toyota to be a major player in all European market segments. 'We have vehicles to fit all segments and we want our dealers to sell them.'
One of Athanasopoulos' first tasks is to ensure that all European distributors and dealers are 'on message.'
'They have to understand we are not just moving cars, but marketing and selling systems to satisfy mobility needs,' he said.