Toyota GB is to ban dealership sales staff from talking to customers until a hostess introduces them, as part of a £40m programme to transform its dealer network. The carmaker wants to replicate the atmosphere of a motor show stand in outlets.
The company is giving the decision of when someone should approach customers to women not directly involved in selling.
Toyota is to trim the network by 20 to 200, with outlet owners cut from 150 to between 80 and 100. Dealers have agreed to invest between £150,000 and £250,000 at each outlet. Around 60% should be converted to the new design by the end of 2002 and the rest by 2005.
Innovations include a selected 'hero car' from the Toyota range (the UK's biggest), a red forecourt totem and scooped used car canopy. Restyled showrooms will have a round table for closing deals.
The changes have been piloted by Arriva on a Bristol retail park and by John Roe, a long-standing Toyota dealer at Grimsby. Soft furnishings and marked floor areas will form key parts of the change to reduce costs for dealers.
Commercial director Mike Moran said: "Toyota is the UK's automotive sleeping giant and we believe there is considerable scope for increased sales.
"Most of our dealers are prepared to put in the money to make these important improvements. Some have said they will not or cannot pay for the changes - we have told those dealers they will not continue to be part of the network."
Mr Moran said it was essential to change the way customers were handled, as women felt patronised and not dealt with as they would like. Research indicated customers of both sexes would feel more comfortable with guidance from a hostess.
"Some customers prefer immediate attention, others want to be left alone - the hostesses will decide," he said. "We will let customers take control - many of them don't like sales staff prowling around the showroom."