Q: You’ve come through the tsunami, the recalls, manufacturing issues. What lessons have you learned both as an executive and as a company?
LENTZ: I think if you look at the recalls, we learned to listen much better, we learned to act much faster, and we learned to be much more transparent. And that has to do with dealing with regulators and dealing with customers. The tsunami was a great challenge for us. Our supply chain collapsed, literally within about two hours, and I think we really learned to understand it much better.
Q: Is the recall situation fully behind you?
LENTZ:We’ve settled the MDL (multi-district litigation) suits. We are making our way through the rest of the issues. I think from a customer standpoint, it’s behind us. Our loyal customers that had an experience with us, I think relatively quickly we were fine with them. The customer that didn’t have the experience, that wasn’t sure what was going on, has been slower to return. And I would say that today we’re probably 80 percent back with that buyer. In total, I would say we’re probably 90 percent back.
Q: Do you consider it high that gasoline has averaged $3.50 for three years, and does it matter anymore?
LENTZ:I think customers have been desensitized to high gas prices. A gas price of $4 or $4.25 won’t change behavior as it has in the past. What changes behavior is rate of change. So if gasoline goes from $3.50 to $4.50 over eight months, I don’t think consumers change their buying behavior. But if it goes from $3.50 to $4.50 in 60 days, that’s when we see change.
Q: What is the long view for Toyota on younger buyers who have a lot of student loan debt and are coming into a lower salary base?