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Toyota to rationalise segmented Japanese dealer network

By Graeme Roberts | 27 September 2018

Toyota Motor is to end its decades-old practice of selling cars in Japan through multiple dealership chains catering to different segments of the market, switching to selling all models at any outlet.

The Nikkei said changing its practice of 60 years is expected to help the automaker cope with decreasing car ownership and the rise of vehicle-sharing as Japan's market shrinks 30% from peak levels.

Toyota will also halve the number of models it develops for the Japanese market from the current 60, based on popularity, the report said.

Toyota dealers sell premium vehicles, Toyopet outlets offer medium-priced cars, Corolla dealers provide mass market models, and Netz dealers target younger drivers. Each chain has its exclusively sold vehicles. Affordable Corollas, for example, can only be found at Corolla dealers - segmenting the automaker's customer base.

Toyota plans to make all passenger models available at each of its 5,000 dealers nationwide by 2025.

Even though dealers will likely keep the name of the dealership chain they belong to, their product lineups will be integrated. This is expected to help Toyota reduce development costs. The upmarket Lexus brand will retain its own network, the Nikkei said.

Though others such as Honda also had different networks, Toyota had become the only Japanese automaker able to maintain a segmented dealership network because it controls half of the country's new-vehicle sales, at over 1.5m units per year. But profitability will be unsustainable should car ownership decline, the Nikkei said.

Toyota plans to enter the car-sharing business in spring 2019 to cultivate new customers, initially rolling out the service at directly operated dealers in Tokyo and eventually allowing regionally operated dealers nationwide to participate as well. It will also encourage partnerships between dealers and companies in other industries like food and retailing.

Small cars, minivans and sport utility vehicles represent most of the top 10 best selling models in Japan, according to an industry group. Yet Toyota's Harrier SUV [aka Lexus RX], as well as its Alphard and Vellfire minivans, are available only through one dealership chain. Toyota's dealership overhaul will give consumers more choices on each visit.

The Nikkei noted that, of Toyota's roughly 280 sales companies, more than 90% are independently managed by local businesses. The locally-oriented approach has helped the company become Japan's top-selling automaker. Its market share, including minivehicles, was 31.2% in 2017, up 1.6 percentage points from 10 years earlier. Should the market continue to shrink, however, about 20% of those sales companies will fall into the red, according to one estimate.

From a 1990 peak of 7.78m units, Japan's domestic car sales plunged 30% to 5.23 million last year. Each dealership sold about 3,639 cars on average in 2017, down 9% from 2013, according to an industry group cited by the Nikkei.

See also: Toyota New Zealand completely revamps vehicle retailing