INTERVIEW: Toyota prepared for a product push in 2009
17 December 2008
Richard Balshaw, new fleet boss at Toyota, tells BusinessCar's Paul Barker about how the company intends to boost its share of the fleet market
Toyota's new fleet and remarketing boss Richard Balshaw thought he'd timed it well when he moved to head the corporate department in April.
A Toyota man for 15 years, Balshaw has worked in several areas including network development and aftersales, but never in fleet, so arriving just over six months before the massive product push Toyota has planned for 2009 and 2010 should have given him time to learn the corporate sector and get his department set up how he wanted. Then the market went pear-shaped.
While some might have cursed their luck, Balshaw has found a positive angle.
"From my perspective, it's a good way to learn. I had to understand everything very quickly," he tells BusinessCar. "Fleet is genuinely interesting because what I hadn't fully appreciated is quite such a sophisticated and mature marketplace it is."
So what has he made of 2008?
"I'm quietly satisfied," says Balshaw. "We've not achieved the volume we targeted at the beginning of the year, but we've achieved the market share we intended to."
Toyota's corporate market share is down 0.2% so far this year, to 4.2% at the end of October, but that's at a time when the company hasn't launched any new product.
Next year will be a very different one as Balshaw looks to lift Toyota's fleet market share by 0.4% on the back of new product (see below).
"We'll definitely have the right products for fleets next year" he says. "In 2009 we think the overall market will be at 1.7m vehicles so we're basing product planning at around those levels with the ability to increase. If things improve we can quickly respond to meet that but we don't want to oversupply."
In preparation for the new cars, Toyota's fleet team is bigger than ever before and now numbers 35.
"Relationships and support are important, people still buy cars from people," says Balshaw. "We've been waiting for the product to come along and we've been building the team to take advantage of it."
The big winner in the current Toyota line-up has been the hybrid Prius. Despite being in its last full year of sales before being replaced, the petrol-electric model is 15.5% up on 2007 in a sliding market. Balshaw puts that down to both firms and individuals wanting to become greener.
"Prius is unique at the moment in that it's a 104g/km upper medium car," he says. "Some fleets are making the decision that they specifically want a green fleet and looking for cars that meet that requirement. We've also got a lot of user-choosers - individuals making a statement, driven both by tax and the environment."
Balshaw also welcomes the arrival of rival brand Honda's second hybrid model, the new Insight, which is due in the UK?early next year.
"We're confident our technology holds up well against any other in the marketplace, but the more that are in the marketplace the better," he says. "It's a technology that needs to be normalised. Hybrids will play a key part of what we do in the future."