Toyota Talks: Interview with Bob Carter, Toyota's Senior Vice President of Automotive Operations

We sit down with Toyota's Bob Carter at the Detroit auto show and talk about the future of the company.

By Rss | January 27, 2014
The 2014 Detroit Auto Show was a big event for Toyota, as the automaker was able to debut an all-new halo sports car for the Toyota brand, the FT-1. Lexus showed off the new RC F, a sporty coupe with powerful performance. We had the chance to sit down with the Senior Vice President of Automotive Operations at Toyota North America, Bob Carter, to talk about the direction the company is headed, as well as new and upcoming models. Read our interview below to see what he had to say. Where is your hybrid technology heading? Are other models in development?
Bob Carter: We are going to be launching 15 new hybrids coming out globally in the next year. We are not in any way stagnant. When you take a look at what's happening in the U.S., if you take all hybrids and electrics and add up their volumes, it's about 600,000 last year, of which we did 343,000 in the U.S. only, and that was up 15%. Significant when you consider alternative powertrains were up 15% when fuel prices, February to December, dropped 50 cents a gallon. The point being is consumers are looking for that. So you'll see us continue to advance it and continue to put it in to other models. Hybrids will be in everything, either dedicated or optional, by the 2020s.
Acom: Are you able to talk about the new Prius? BC: We haven't released anything on it yet. We're in third generation. The comment is when, and we haven't acknowledged when. It's not too difficult to go back. Prius was launched in the 2009 model year. That would suggest that it's at the end of its life cycle. The current vehicle is still rated at 51 mpg. [Chief Engineer] Ogizo is trying to exceed that by 10 percent. That's all we have on that at this point. Acom: Regarding the Corolla, that model has a CVT transmission. Do you plan to implement that into future models? BC: Perhaps. I'm really pleased with that CVT. The engineers have done a terrific job. What they did was they added a computer to it that gives it artificial shift points. Honestly speaking, those artificial shift points don't really do anything functionally, but it takes away that typical CVT feeling. Then you get the added benefits of the efficiency. You'll continue to see the utilization of CVTs. Certainly on the compact and subcompact side of the market. Acom: The GMC Canyon recently launched. Are you at all worried that market share might be taken away because of the new launch?
BC: No. I think the exact opposite's going to happen. The Tacoma is at maximum capacity. We're actively doing a lot of development on the future Tacoma. The segment's contracted, largely due to brands pulling out of compacts. I believe if you look at the market, the car market was dominated by full-size, then it migrated to midsize, and now compact is the hot market segment. If you look at SUVs, the same thing happened. We haven't seen that in trucks. I think the time is right. The midsize pickup trucks are going to grow. We have 65% share. If it grows and more competitors come in, I don't know where the share goes. We'll always be a dominant player there.
Acom: The Tundra was going to have new marketing to break into the U.S. market. Why is the segment so difficult to enter? BC: You really need to take a look at the way we manage our business. Both vehicles are built in San Antonio on the same production line. We have a secondary production facility in Baja Mexico that will build just Toyota Crew Cabs. We will do in excess of 250,000 units. We get 65% market share of compact trucks and we get 6-7% share of full-size pickups. When you look at everything together, we're in the 12-14% share range. And we're at maximum capacity. So we're performing very well. We will continue to be a major player in the truck market. But the dynamics have changed. Right at the time that we opened up our plant in San Antonio, the full-size market was 2.5 million, and by 2008, it was 1.2. Now it's coming back. We expect it to be 1.8-1.9. That’s a sizeable market we'll continue to be in. In the short term we can build about 200,000 to a quarter of a million trucks. We have massive flexibility. How many of those are Tacomas and how many of those are Tundras, it's really up to the consumer. We change our demand ratios every month. Acom: The Scion FR-S has seen great success. What are your plans to further the success of the FR-S and the Scion lineup as a whole?
BC: The FR-S is a fantastic car. It's a little seasonal. It sells really well because it’s a great handling and great driving vehicle. We have shown concepts, a convertible concept. That convertible concept is not green-lighted. I personally would love to have a convertible, but it takes collaboration from both Toyota and Subaru to do that. So, nothing is announced at this point in time, but it's still early in the process. The car is just now entering its second model year. But it's been a great collaboration. We use their manufacturing facility in Indiana. This was the first time we collaborated on anything on the product side.
Acom: Scion will drop two models, the xB and xD. Are there plans to add new models to the lineup? BC: We haven't dropped the models yet, but they are getting later in the lifecycle. We are looking at different vehicles. We've shown some concepts on the auto show circuit. The president of Toyota said that there are new Scions on the way. You just have to be a little patient. There's a tremendous amount of Toyotas, then Lexus, and the third priority is Scion. Acom: We know the NX is coming, is there any information you can share at this moment? BC: No, it'll be debuted later in the year. What will be debuted will be our plans. What is being shown is still just the concept. We are finalizing our plans and will have more announcements later this year. Acom: Will the GX be moved to a unibody platform?
BC: Actually, we just did a refresh of the GX with the styling. We ended December with a four day supply. It's selling extremely well. GX and 4Runner are really the two last body-on-frame SUVs in the market. They've found a niche. We're having a difficult time keeping production in line with demand. So short term, no. We have plenty of unibodies. Its' turning out to be great positioning. There are a lot of people out there that want an SUV that can tow a boat. Unibodies can, but not as well as a body-on-frame.
Acom: Lexus doesn't offer manual transmissions in their current vehicles. Is that something that will potentially change? BC: The automatic transmissions, particularly the eight-speeds that Lexus is using right now are much better performing. They're faster. Townsend Bell was faster on the track in an automatic than he is in a manual. Manuals are fun. I like driving manuals. But the manual market is shrinking. A lot of people ask about them, but very few people buy them. If you're not Porsche, the volumes are very insignificant. There's no plan to introduce manuals to Lexus at this time. Acom: Where do you think Toyota, Lexus, and Scion can expand their market shares?
Toyota Ft1 Concept Reveal
BC: You've seen it with the FT-1, and you're seeing it with several of the cars we've introduced last year. The Toyota brand has always been based on quality, dependability, and reliability. That will never change. We've been conservative in terms of styling and the emotional content of our cars. The buyers are looking for more expression in their cars. So we're delivering it through styling and fun-to-drive characteristics. That's clearly the path that we are on. We will continue our environmental path. The fuel cell is the real deal. That will be the future of the car business. That's where we see it going.
Acom: Is the FT-1 going to be the Supra's return or a completely new model? BC: All I can tell you right now is that we're very interested in sports cars. We have the LFA and the RC F for Lexus. The FR-S is the halo performance car for Scion. We've had halo performance cars for the Toyota brand. We don't currently have them today. This is a concept of "what if," but it's a little bit of heritage. But it's purely a concept, one that we're actively studying. You didn't hear the word Supra today at the press conference. Today is a concept of where we may be going. My personal desire would be to have it with a manual. It's possible, but nothing is decided.

More Editor's Picks Articles

We hear it all the time: What's your favorite car? Truth is, it's tough to answer. Favorite car for what? Taking the kids to soccer practice? Hauling lumber? Exploring a new mountain road? Not one car is idea for all situations. So if you want to know our favorites, comb through our Editor's Picks and see.
2015 Chevrolet Colorado is the 2015 Motor Trend Truck of the Year

2015 Chevrolet Colorado is the 2015 Motor Trend...

Colorado Trumps Texas

December 03, 2014

2015 Motor Trend Truck of the Year Contenders

2015 Motor Trend Truck of the Year Contenders

Pickup Throwdown: America's Newest Pickups and a Van Battle for the Golden...

December 03, 2014

Sit-down with Subaru: Q&A with Dominick Infante, National Manager, Product Communications at Subaru of America

Sit-down with Subaru: Q&A with Dominick Infante,...

We ask everything we want to know about current and future Subaru cars.

February 11, 2014