The Truth About Cars » Jim Lentz The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Fri, 18 Jul 2014 16:16:01 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Jim Lentz Toyota Turns Away From Batteries, Toward Fuel Cells Wed, 21 May 2014 13:00:19 +0000 Toyota FCV Concept

After 20 years of pursuing a battery-powered future, Toyota has decided to take a different course powered by hydrogen.

Automotive News reports Toyota North America CEO Jim Lentz says his company sees EVs’ viability “in a select way, in short-range vehicles that take you that extra mile, from the office to the train, or home to the train, as well as being used on large [corporate] campuses.” This view is reflected in the decision to end its purchase agreement with Tesla of battery packs for 2,600 RAV4 EVs over three years, which Lentz personally felt future investment into the agreement would be better spent developing hydrogen fuel cells instead.

Speaking of such things, Toyota’s commitment toward a hydrogen future includes a $7 million “arms-length” investment in FirstElement Fuel Inc. — the startup founded by former General Motors and Hyundai executive Joel Ewanick — in its plan to build 19 hydrogen fueling stations throughout California by the autumn of 2015. The automaker’s own research found that 68 stations would be needed in California to meet the needs of 10,000 fuel cell vehicle owners, 50 of which are expected to come online by the end of 2016.

Lentz says he hopes his company won’t be alone in developing the emerging market like it was when the Prius first arrived. So far, Toyota, Honda and Hyundai are working on new fuel cell vehicles to help spur demand, the first of which are predicted to arrive in 2015.

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Lentz: Hydrogen Sedans By 2015 From A Spread-Betting Toyota Thu, 13 Jun 2013 11:56:48 +0000  


AutomakerS around the world seem to have colluded to turn 2015 into the Hydrogen year. Yesterday in Nagoya (a trip into which TTAC invested 21,160 yen, and the price of a bento box, no freebie jaunts in Japan) , Toyota’s NA CEO Jim Lentz confirmed that the Hydrogen Year is still on the calendar.

Lentz promised that “the first fuel cell sedan coming to the U.S. in 2015.” Fuel cell technology is a high stakes bet, but it is not Toyota’s only one. Said Lentz:

“We will continue to promote more advanced technologies from plug-ins to EVs as well as fuel cells, and we will continue to make improvements to the internal combustion engine.”

This reiterates statements made by Toyota’s new energy maven Satoshi Ogiso two years ago. It is far from clear which alternative energy will succeed in the market, therefore, betting on just one would be, well, ill-advised. To bet on the right technology, said Ogiso, a large automaker must bet on all:

“We must go multi track. We must improve gasoline and diesel engines. We must increase the number of hybrid models. We must produce the plug-in hybrid. We must develop city commuter electric vehicles. We already started small production of fuel cell vehicles. We must do all these improvements at the same time.”

Of course, Toyota remains bullish on hybrid technology. 15 percent of Toyota’s cars sold worldwide are hybrid-powered, Lentz said. Full-size hybrid trucks and SUVs, powered by a hybrid drivetrain jointly developed with Ford, should become available “later in the decade,” Lentz promised.

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From The Best Vanilla To More Spicy Pistachio: Jim Lentz Describes Toyota’s New Tastes Wed, 12 Jun 2013 20:54:28 +0000 IMG_7837

For better or for worse, it looks like the endless rants of bloggers about beige appliances are having their effects. Toyota is getting in touch with its emotional self, and that self-discovery starts in America, ground zero of the beige kvetching. 


“In the past, we were very strong on the rational side of the purchase decision: Quality, dependability, value, safety,” says Toyota’s CEO of North America, Jim Lentz, today. In the past, Lentz was proud to sell the best vanilla there is, today, he promises pistachio. “We were weak in the past in terms of the emotional side of purchase: Styling, interior and fun to drive. That’s where you will see the big changes.”

Some of the big changes became evident at the launch of the U.S. version of Toyota’s mainstay model, the Corolla. When unveiled  on June 6 in Santa Monica, the U.S. Corolla looked much more stylish than its new Japanese sibling, which we drove around Tokyo a year ago. While Toyota stays square at home, it turns hip abroad. That change of heart and design pleased the digital fourth estate. “The press that saw it on June 6th are very excited about the car,” Lentz beams, while Tokyo communication chief Keisuke Kirimoto tucks on Lentz’s sleeve to get him into a car and to Toyota City, where Akio Toyoda still insists on punctuality.


Lentz came to Nagoya today to celebrate his promotion to North America Chief with a Japanese media that still is trying to come to grips with the fact that four out of eight Toyota regions are now in the hands of gaijin. Before his promotion in April, Lentz was chief of Toyota Motor sales and hence head salesman of North America. Now he heads “all three silos” as he likes to call sales, manufacturing and engineering.

Despite the design changes, Lentz thinks it will be a long time, or never before Toyota will get back to the 17 percent market share it had in 2009. That was a fluke, born more out of a perverse alignment of the competition’s weakness, carmageddon, and the strength of Toyota’s bank account, Lentz tells us today:

“We were flush with capital so that dealers could borrow money to floorplan cars. I think we had some tailwinds, and I don’t think 17 percent is a realistic number. Somewhere between today’s 14 percent and 17 probably is right.”


While being dragged away, Lentz pours cold water on hopes that the Prius will soon be made stateside. Sales of all Prius models go according to plan, and “today, there is no need to add additional capacity and bring it to the US. When that sales forecast exceeds capacity, we will be one of the regions in the world to raise our hands.” Even then, it would be “very challenging, because we need to localize all the components as well. It does not do us any good to assemble in the US and to ship parts in from Japan.”

Sounds like never.


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Jim Lentz Named CEO Of Toyota Motor Sales North America, First American Appointed To Post Tue, 13 Mar 2012 20:13:53 +0000

Toyota COO Jim Lentz will be getting a new role – CEO of Toyota Motor Sales North America. The announcement was buried in a press release announcing other management changes at Toyota’s stateside operations.

Lentz is the first American to occupy this post, a significant development that was given scant mention the in the press release. The focus appeared to be the appointment of Shigeki Terashi as President and COO of Toyota Motor North America, the holding company that oversees Toyota’s American operations. Lentz became known for his public defenses of Toyota during their unintended acceleration scandal in 2009 and 2010.

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Toyota Testimony, Day One: A Comedy In Three Parts: Act Two: The White Whale Wed, 24 Feb 2010 17:20:16 +0000

Toyota’s Jim Lentz (who, I’m obligated to share, bears a striking resemblance to the dad from “Teen Wolf”) spent nearly two and a half hours before a committee that by then was investigating what expert witnesses described as an unknown, untraceable electronics error of nearly limitless reach. With this white whale taking the foreground of the committee’s imagination, the committee sharpened its harpoons, licked its lips and sailed out upon uncertain seas in search of its elusive quarry.

Lentz gave a straightforward statement describing Toyota’s response to the scandal, reiterating the company’s position that floormats or sticky gas pedals could explain Toyota’s UA problem. Lentz admitted that he was no engineer, but he refused to be pulled into quicksand of the vague claims of unidentified electronic problems. When told by the committee that Toyota’s counsel had admitted that sticky pedals might not explain “sudden high speed acceleration events,” Lentz eventually did admit that the floormat and pedal recalls won’t “totally” prevent future cases of unintended acceleration. “We need to remain vigilant,” said Lentz.

Lentz said that he was “confident” that Toyota’s testing of its electronic throttle control unit (ECTU) in Japan had turned up no problems. Chairman Waxman questioned how Dr Gilbert was able to come up with evidence of a problem (or at least evidence of a possible absence of evidence) within three hours of work on the ECTU, but Lentz claimed that Toyota’s (and its outside research firm Exponent’s) investigations hadn’t been able to reproduce them. In any case, Gilbert’s evidence didn’t show how malfunctions like the Smith’s actually happened.

Perhaps the biggest issue that Lentz faced was the fact that 70 percent of UA complaints in Toyota’s own database were in vehicles not affected by the recall. This was presented as evidence of the mysterious electronics scenario, a thrust that Lentz was obligated to defend against. But just as congress couldn’t tell Ms Smith that her story didn’t add up, Lentz made it very clear that he would not blame customers. Instead, he took the more politically palatable route of arguing definitions, arguing that sticky pedals would account for unintended acceleration but not sudden unintended acceleration. Though Lentz admitted that Toyota hadn’t responded well enough to consumer feedback, he brought unwanted nuance into the hearing by suggesting that all unintended acceleration is not created equal. As Lentz’s statement reads:

Why did it take so long to get to this point? With respect to pedal entrapment, Toyota conducted investigations of customer complaints which focused too narrowly on technical issues without taking full account of the way customers used our vehicles. And in the case of sticking accelerator pedals, we failed to promptly analyze and respond to information emerging from Europe and in the United States.

The upshot of Lentz’s epic grilling was that Toyota had grown too fast and that weaknesses in internal communication prevented the company from responding to in a timely manner to customer complaints. In this sense, he was surprisingly in step with the trial-lawyer-funded expert witnesses who will doubtless go on testify in several of the pending suits against Toyota. As Kane put it, unintended acceleration is a complex problem with a number of root causes. But while Kane’s agenda is to leverage this uncertainty into the perception of an as yet unidentified electronics problem, Lentz’s agenda was to suggest as tactfully as possible that human error (or, “the way our customers used our vehicles”) could play a role as well. The committee embraced complexity when it fit the outline of its white whale, but when Lentz broadened this complexity to include scenarios that take human fallibility into account, the hunting party was thrown into chaos.

Unable to catch sight of the white whale that the first panel of witnesses had sent them in search of, the committee had to satisfy itself with Lentz’s admission that it did not respond quickly enough to customer complaints. With the phantom menace still as mysteriously undefined as ever, the committee members who wanted more from Toyota than contrition over a failure to connect the dots in customer complaints resorted bashing Toyota for totally unrelated reasons. But by the time that California Rep. McNerney accused Toyota of not doing enough to prevent the shutdown of NUMMI, Lentz was pretty clearly out of the woods. Lentz’s rebuttal that GM’s pullout from NUMMI was the catalyst for what McNerney termed “Toyota’s antipathy to West Coast workers” reminded the committee that congress’s record in regulating the auto industry was hardly a sterling one.

Ultimately, Lentz left the hearing having admitted that Toyota was less than entirely competent in tracking its consumer feedback in order to keep its customers safe. In this sense, the hearing publicly shamed Toyota and cemented the damage that had already been done by the scandal. Where Lentz did succeed admirably was in putting the fevered distress over a possible software gremlin into context. In Lentz’s words:

Put simply, it has taken us too long to come to grips with a rare but serious set of safety issues, despite all of our good faith efforts.

Comedy is born in the space between our expectations and reality. Having been prepped by its expert witnesses to believe that Toyotas are afflicted with a mysterious, pervasive electronic gremlin, the House Energy Committee combed Lentz’s testimony for evidence of this improbable scenario. The ensuing attack on Toyota for the NUMMI closure would have been humorous enough, but the comedic irony in the situation goes even deeper: the shortcomings of human nature that led the committee on a convoluted search for simple answers to complex problems are the same shortcomings that lead individuals to concoct inexplicable narratives as the only possible explanation for their own failings in a moment of crisis. That Lentz was able to let this deceptively complex truth shine through in the midst of a congressional hearing (which are not known for their insightful nuance, to put it mildly) without explicitly blaming customers is a tribute to his performance. Though Toyota’s shortcomings in customer service were acknowledged, the committee failed to land their mythical quarry, which would have permanently destroyed Toyota’s reputation forever.

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Toyota’s Jim Lentz Digg Dialogues Tue, 09 Feb 2010 17:25:06 +0000

Perhaps the biggest surprise of Jim Lentz’s appearance on Digg Dialogue was the number of questions that were unrelated to Toyota’s ongoing recalls and quality issues. But even if crowdsourcing had yielded a number of truly tough questions, Lentz had access to them ahead of the interview, giving him time to craft slippery answers. Still, the session provides an interesting of a preview of Toyota’s defense ahead of tomorrow’s congressional hearing. The main thrust: unintended acceleration is mysterious phenomenon, and finding a common cause for multiple incidents could be nearly impossible. Unless investigators find a ghost in Toyota’s electronics code, that may be as good of an answer as we’re ever going to get.

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Lentz: Don’t Like The Gas Pedal Fix? Insist On Replacement! Tue, 02 Feb 2010 14:04:58 +0000

One of the lingering concerns over the Toyota recall is whether Toyota’s “precision steel” shim fix to the recalled CTS gas pedal assembly will be a reliable long-term solution. Our analysis indicates that these questions might be well-founded, and we’re not the only ones concerned about the viability of Toyota’s proposed fix. In an interview with Toyota’s Jim Lentz yesterday evening, NPR asked why Toyota was using a redesigned pedal for new production, but only offering the shim fix to existing customers. Lentz insisted that the repaired pedals would be as good as the redesigned pedal, that the costs of repair and replacement were about the same, and that the main reason Toyota was repairing rather than replacing recalled pedals was the desire to “get customers back on the road… as quickly as we possibly can.” That’s when NPR went for the jugular.

NPR asked: “if I’m a Toyota owner subject to this recall and I say ‘I don’t want a repaired accelerator pedal, I want a new one.’ Is that an option?” To which Lentz replied: “it will be looked at on a case-by-case basis.” When NPR asked for Lentz to clarify what he meant by “case-by-case basis,” he said “It’s really up to… between the dealer and the customer. We would like to see customers get this fix done with the precision cut steel bar and see how that is. I think the customers are going to be very satisfied with overall quality of the pedal and the feel of the pedal.”

In short, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. If you’re paranoid about the quality of Toyota’s “precision steel” shim repair, ask for a new pedal. And tell ‘em Jim Lentz sent you. Of course, there’s no guarantee that your Toyota dealer will have new pedal assemblies, as they’re being sent to plants for installation in newly produced cars. Nor is there any guarantee that the “redesigned” assembly isn’t simply the same CTS unit with the shim pre-installed.

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Toyota’s Jim Lentz On Today Show: No Conspiracy, New Parts Shipping Today Mon, 01 Feb 2010 20:36:21 +0000

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Matt Lauer turns the screws on Toyota’s Jim Lentz, who responds to conspiracy claims by saying that his family, friends and neighbors drive Toyotas. “I would not have them in products that I knew were not safe,” he says, although he does acknowledge that rapid growth could have played a role in a general decline in quality.

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