Managing director Graham Smith believes Toyota GB is achieving the industry's most significant shift away from the motor trade's 'underneath the arches' culture.
Ironically, the location chosen for a high-profile site lies beneath the arches of an elevated section of the M4 in west London. Motorists can see “Toyota” written on the roof of the outlet which is owned by the manufacturer.
Mr Smith and his chairman, Kimake Kuroki, and Currie Motors chairman Abe Jaffe and managing director Joe Jaffe (his son) visited the latest example of Toyota's 'new retail concept'.
Family-owned Currie Motors – marketing slogan “nice people to do business with” – is Toyota's largest London dealer group, with six sites. Its turnover of £160m puts it at No36 in the AM100, up from No47 last year.
Currie Motors Great West Road, at Brentford, Middlesex, has warm colours, soft furnishings and curved fittings.
Visitors are welcomed by a host who serves coffee while their children play computer games. People are left to inspect new cars and only meet sales staff when introduced by the host.
Minal Shah, Currie Motors Great West Road host, who worked in British Aerospace administration before recently joining the group, said: “I have two children and sense people are relaxed because there is something for kids to do. This makes it easier for them to concentrate on buying a car.”
She received three days training from Toyota, learning how to help customers, who all enter through the same door. They are introduced to an appropriate member of staff. Mr Smith said: “We decided in May 1999 to change the physical and cultural environment of our dealerships.
“Car showrooms are perceived as adversarial and we decided to make ours welcoming for increasingly informed customers.” Mr Smith said Toyota this year expected 115,000 car and commercial vehicle registrations in the UK, with its ninth successive annual increase.
Up to the end of July, Toyota's new car registrations totalled 58,511 (4.06% of the market), placing it seventh, ahead of MG Rover and Nissan. This was 12.85% up year-on-year.
The manufacturer has also decided to build dealerships “where necessary” and rent them to retail groups. The Currie site is the second – the first, at Birmingham's Star City retail park, is run by the Hamer Group.
“They will usually be in high-cost city areas where dealers will find it difficult to justify investment,” said Mr Smith. “We don't have a target number but there will be others.
“The proportion of sales they achieve will be greater than their total as a fraction of the network of 220 dealers. “We have reduced this from 277, which we considered too many, and are in the process of establishing around 50 separate Lexus centres.
“The Great West Road has been an open point since the mid-Nineties and we have now ensured a presence there.” Currie Motors, with Toyota and Lexus outlets in nearby Twickenham, has invested £1.5m in an aftersales centre for both outlets and marques in Isleworth.
Joe Jaffe said: “Toyota is a friendly landlord. We pay a monthly rent and take any profit – or risk a loss.
“We welcomed the invitation to run the site. As a private company, we would not have risked the investment in building the dealership. Now we need to sell 750 new and used cars a year to make it worthwhile.”