Toyota CEO Promises Automaker Will Be Better, Faster, Stronger

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

Jim Lentz, CEO of Toyota Motor North America, is going to great lengths to tell the world his company is only going to get better in the years to come — proving to his employer that he knows exactly what his job entails. In addition to explaining how the brand’s new modular architecture will give assembly lines much-needed flexibility, this week also had him announcing Toyota won’t dawdle anymore on getting product into consumer hands.

“I think we’re going to be quicker to market,” Lentz announced to the press at Toyota’s brand new $1 billion Texas headquarters on Thursday. “Before if you were part of the sales organization, you had your own legal team [and] HR team, so there was a lot of redundancy across the organization … we were able to streamline that and, with a lot of the headcount changes, we were able to hire more engineers to our operation in Ann Arbor, as we continue to develop vehicles here in North America, for North America.”

While Toyota’s U.S. R&D remains fixated in Michigan, the Texas base of operations unifies thousands of employees under one massive roof that had previously been spread across the country. According to WardsAuto, Lentz claimed Toyota retained 72 percent of its workforce from California, Kentucky, and New York. Around 1,400 employees opted out of making the move.

There is time, however, for them to change their minds. Toyota is giving employees a two-year window in which to relocate and is incentivizing employees who stay with the company in Plano, Texas as well. “I fully expect that we will have people [go], as they reach retirement age, two or three years down the road,” Lentz said. “But I really don’t expect to see what Nissan saw. That was a fairly large drop-off.”

Nissan encountered problems when it lost 60 percent of its 1,300 Los Angeles headquarters staffers and executives after relocating to Nashville in 2006. Attempting to do the same thing, Toyota has taken every precaution to avoid similar setbacks.

“I came to Nashville with only two of my product planners,” stated Larry Dominique in a 2014 interview with Automotive News, who originally relocated with Nissan North America as vice president of product planning but eventually returned to California in 2011 to become executive VP of TrueCar. “People said we’d never be able to recruit the new talent we needed to replace everyone,” Dominique recalled. “And that did take some work. But we did it. We assembled a great staff.”

Toyota achieved a much higher retention rate while using Nissan’s example as a cautionary tale. It went a little further to make the move easier on staff and is showcasing the campus’ seven office buildings as a desirable place to work. In addition to providing space to work, the Plano location also has an on-site pharmacy, physician, and 11 eating establishments. Toyota also saw fit to provide non-traditional office spaces and amenities — although it only cited microwaves and refrigerators, which we are willing to bet most offices already have.

Toyota has hired 800 workers locally, most of which live in the Dallas area, for about 1,000 open positions. There will be 4,200 permanent employees at the new HQ, but the campus can accommodate up to 6,500, according to Lentz.

Toyota is also using the Texas locale to highlight its commitment to green technologies, claiming it possesses the largest non-utility-owned solar array in the state. While that only accounts for 30 percent of the facility’s needs, the automaker has claimed the remaining power all comes from renewable energy sources. There is also a massive rainwater collection grid to harvest 400,000 gallons of fluid to use in irrigation. But Governor Greg Abbott said water and power weren’t nearly as important as the people Texas had to offer.

“The greatest resource we have here in the Lone Star State is our highly-skilled workforce that draws global businesses like Toyota to Texas every day,” Abbott said during the HQ’s opening ceremony. “The 4,000 jobs added and Toyota’s impressive new facility are proof of the remarkable momentum of Texas’ continuing economic expansion. I am proud that Toyota is expanding here, and I thank them for their commitment to being an important part of our Texas community.”

Even though the campus opening was little more than an opportunity for Toyota executives and local dignitaries to issue corporate praise until they were blue in the face, the company has been making serious moves in 2017. Slower than its competitors to modernize, the brand has begun taking swifter steps toward electrification and updating its production facilities. It has also started putting more money into R&D and expanded its engineering operations in Michigan. Texas’ role to play is to ensure nothing holds Toyota back in putting that fruit on the market in a timely manner.

[Images: Toyota]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • Lou_BC Lou_BC on Jul 10, 2017

    "Toyota CEO Promises Automaker Will Be Better, Faster, Stronger" Que sound track from "The Six Million Dollar Man".

  • Big Al from Oz Big Al from Oz on Jul 10, 2017

    It good to see these higher paying Toyota jobs. I did read an article 3-4 years ago about the Chinese. The Chinese are using specialist design and engineering studios to design cars. The claim back then was 15 months from an idea to the first vehicles rolling off the production line. This is one area the "West" must tackle in competing with the Chinese. If the Chinese can produce a vehicle quicker it will have an edge on the Western vehicle manufacturers. Maybe the West might need to look at how we are designing vehicles. Should we have only a few design and engineering studios/complexes?

    • Joeaverage Joeaverage on Jul 10, 2017

      Will the US gov't ever let Chinese cars be sold here? I know the US isn't the whole world of course. I'm sure Europe and Russia already allow Chinese brands to be sold there which says to me that their markets are more open and free than our's. There would be a whole gaggle of sub-prime rate people who would get over any xenophobia and would buy a Chinese car if it was halfway good and cheap enough - think Kia Sephia grade cars.

  • Lou_BC While we discuss Chinese cars, Chinese politics, and Chinese global desires, I'm looking at TTAC and Google display advertising for Chinese tires. They have nukes aimed at us but their money and products are acceptable to consumers and business?
  • TheTireWhisperer And a thankful Memorial day to all.
  • Kwik_Shift_Pro4X Take some time today to realize that virtually zero soldiers had died defending your border.
  • Tassos As somebody who is NOT a stupid fanatic about EVs one way or the other:No manufacturer has built a "Better Tesla" EV yet. Most have tried, we wait for TOyota only (last hope for the Tesla haters)UNLESS a DIRT CHEAP Model 2 comes along (will never happen in the next 2 or 3 years), Do NOT expect that 7% to go to even 10%, let alone the ... 30% clueless Idiot Joe Biden voters expect. If anything, PLUG INS and HYBRIDS may, in the SHORT term, bring the 7% down.
  • Pig_Iron 💝