"Agility and resilience are in Toyota’s corporate DNA, so we were well positioned to adapt"

n a speech to key Canadian auto industry influencers earlier this week, the Presidents of Toyota Canada Inc. (TCI) and Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada (TMMC) described how Toyota’s culture of corporate agility and resilience positioned them for success during a very challenging year. As the world grappled with several significant issues, Toyota focused on the future: continuing to electrify its product lineup, preparing to produce a new electrified model in Canada, and introducing new technology and mobility options for its customers.
The audience attending the company’s annual corporate dinner (held virtually this year) heard how, when faced with a confluence of issues in 2020, Toyota quickly adapted – not only to the challenges themselves, but to the rapidly shifting priorities and expectations of Canadian consumers.
“Agility and resilience are in Toyota’s corporate DNA, so we were well positioned to adapt,” said Larry Hutchinson, President & CEO of TCI. “We’re a problem-solving company at heart, and we used the interruption to business-as-usual as an opportunity to accelerate the evolution of our business.”
With 191,420 total vehicles sold in 2020, TCI ended the year as Canada’s #1 automaker in retail sales.
“Toyota has a strong history of solving problems while simultaneously growing and planning for the future,” added Frank Voss, President of TMMC. “We just find ways to adjust our operations and continue to build great products. We might actually be at our best when facing challenges.”
With more than 427,000 vehicles produced in 2020 (despite seven fewer weeks of production time), TMMC maintained its status as Canada’s largest auto producer.
According to Hutchinson, the priorities for the automotive industry were further brought into focus by the social and environmental turbulence the world faced in 2020.
“The messages for our industry were clear. We need to be more connected and offer more shared services. We need to work even harder at being inclusive. And, perhaps more than anything else, the Canadian automotive industry needs to be even more electrified and emit even less carbon.”
Last year, Toyota Canada sold more than 35,000 electrified vehicles – about the same as all the battery-electric vehicles sold in Canada, by all the other auto manufacturers, combined. And, since August, electrified vehicles have accounted for 20-30% of Toyota Canada’s overall sales each month. Hutchinson projects electrified sales will account for 40% of TCI’s overall sales by 2025.
“Even with all the recent announcements… and rhetoric… and resulting media buzz, we plan to stay the industry’s electrified leader,” said Hutchinson. “And our plan is a solid one. Not just aspiration, but action. Not just concepts for later, but carbon reduction now.”
With hybrid electric vehicles emitting 30-40% fewer carbon emissions – and an even greater emissions reduction for plug-in hybrid or fuel-cell electric vehicles – the more customers who choose these options, the more meaningful the combined carbon reduction will be, he said.
“Having low-emission options across our line-up allows our customers to choose a more sustainable vehicle that meets their needs, at a price point accessible to them. At the same time, this helps us meet our biggest challenge: to bring down overall greenhouse gas emissions today.”
Recently, Toyota announced two battery electric vehicles and another plug-in hybrid vehicle would soon be coming to the North American market. But Hutchinson didn’t want to dwell on that news.
“I understand the interest,” said Hutchinson. “But I wish people also asked me questions about our overall greenhouse gas reduction strategy, because isn’t that really the whole point?”
Truly effective battery electric vehicles are still beyond the reach of the average car buyer, he said.
“Today’s battery electric vehicle choices are aspirational models that capture the imagination and raise awareness of the technology’s potential. And that’s great. But don’t confuse aspiration with action. There’s a reason it’s rare for drivers who have a battery electric vehicle to rely on it as their only vehicle. Battery electrics simply aren’t practical answers for most Canadians yet.”
Agility and resilience were also the name of the game for TMMC last year.
When TMMC and the other Toyota plants across North America paused their operations to protect the health and safety of the company’s employees last March, Voss said they found innovative ways to adjust their operations to keep everyone healthy and continue building great products.
“The same day we decided to shut down, we were working on our plans to safely return to production. By July, with strict new procedures in place, we were back to full output. And we’ve been running at full capacity ever since. From the day we first started manufacturing in Canada, almost nothing has been able to slow us down.”
Voss reminded the industry audience that TMMC was the first plant outside Japan to build a Lexus model and, with production of the Lexus NX starting in spring 2022, they will become the first plant outside Japan to build two different Lexus vehicles.
With a total investment of over nine billion dollars in its Canadian production facilities so far, TMMC has been producing high-tech electrified vehicles in Canada for almost a decade. Today, they build North America’s best-selling hybrid electric SUV, the Toyota RAV4 hybrid, and best-selling luxury hybrid electric SUV, the Lexus RX hybrid.
“Our recent investments ensure Toyota’s Canadian plants are well-positioned to build any vehicle the company asks us to build – including the most advanced electrified models that will be coming to our market over the next few years,” Voss added. “If anyone in the world can build them, we can.”