Monday, April 5, 2010

The Lexus Paradox

I recently had lunch with a friend. She told me over the appetizer portion of the meal she rented a car from Hertz last week. Being a Gold Preferred member the car was waiting in the appointed stall after a brief glance at the reservation display.

It was a Toyota Camry.

She told me a few brief months ago this would have been a moment of elation - a portent of a great few days ahead. Instead, there was a pause - a hesitation - a faint misgiving about the rental. My friend told me how her perceptions of Toyota had changed so rapidly in such a short period of time.

I pointed out to her she owned a Lexus SUV...

...and that Lexus is owned by Toyota, and Lexus vehicles are essentially X-body Toyota vehicles.


"I really hadn't made the connection. You're right."

Toyota has two great things going for it: The Lexus sub-brand and Lean manufacturing.

People tell me Lexus ownership is SO GREAT.

Lexus has built up incredible goodwill with owners, and it isolates them from the Toyota connection even during a period of so much adverse attention. It is a case study in great brand strategy and management - and an example of exemplary end-to-end customer experience delivery. Lexus endures as a role model despite the circumstances of the parent company. Toyota: Bring some of this to the core franchise, and redemption is plausible.

Lean manufacturing as invented and practiced by Toyota in its manufacturing plants around the world is legendary. Its ability to produce quality products, give voice to employees, and be an exemplar in continuous learning and improvement makes it a widely copied manufacturing environment. If Toyota can move this ethos out of the plant and into the distribution, sales and service environment - again, brand redemption seems more than likely.

Interesting times - and time for Toyota to learn from itself and spread the wealth.