Responding to Toyota’s troubles. With incentives!!??

Toyota has been very successful in the US and has undeniably eaten Detroit’s lunch. Now Toyota has stumbled and you can hardly blame its competitors for attempting to take advantage of the situation.

That said, it’s a good time to pause and take a deep breath, because as so often is true, it’s not what you do but how you do it that matters.

Today’s New York Times has an article headlined: “With Toyota in trouble, rivals gain.” Manufacturers are offering incentives to encourage Toyota owners to come in their stores, trade-in their Toyota for a new whatever. Supposedly these incentives are not being widely advertised and dealers are being encouraged not to “try to take a predatory stance in this type of environment.”  According to GM and others, their dealers have requested incentive support.  Of course they wanted incentive support, there’s blood in the water.

There are a couple of good reasons to push back against this knee jerk reaction to offer incentives.

First, while it may be Toyota’s turn in the barrel today, next month it could be any of the competitors.  Today’s vehicles are incredibly complicated, with more computing power, millions of lines of code, electronic almost everything.  Every manufacturer will have recalls, most minor, but there’s always the possibility of something major. They’re all living in glass houses.

The second and more important reason not to immediately use incentives is that you don’t have to.  I have read article after article that has reported that Toyota values are dropping.  Dealers who have historically sold Toyota’s for $1-2,000 over invoice are selling cars at a loss.  So the customers who are now looking for an alternative to their Toyota, are people that paid full whack when they purchased it. These folks aren’t looking for the best deal, they are looking for the best car, one they can count on.  Now is the time to sell your product based on it’s merits, not the deal.

Detroit has long lamented that the need to offer incentives has crippled them financially.  Most have gone on record in 2009 saying that they were not going to use incentives as much.  So what happens when circumstances create an opportunity, they’re offering incentives!

The irony is that Ford and General Motors have really got their product act together, they are building excellent cars.  Cars that are capable of competing with Toyota. For the only time in recent memory Toyota owners might actually be “open” to another brand and the first thing we’re going to do is sell them a deal rather than selling them on the virtues of the product.

Toyota’s troubles are an opportunity for its competitors to build credibility and their stature as first tier manufacturers.  Unfortunately it seems that old habits die hard. The all consuming desire to drive volume today will prevent the companies and their dealers from behaving in a way that will build their reputations for the longer term.

That’s a missed opportunity.

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One Response to “Responding to Toyota’s troubles. With incentives!!??”

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