ONE of the most astonishing feats in the Philippine automotive industry is how Toyota Motor Philippines Corporation (TMP) reached six-figure sales in 2014. Although TMP was expected to be the market leader in vehicle sales in the country, reaching the 100,000-unit sales mark in 2014 was a milestone even the company did not expect.
Take if from Michinobu Sugata: “Frankly, I was also amazed to see that. I remember that our original plan for 2014 was only 90,000-unit sales, a 20-percent increase over 2013. When I first mentioned to our dealer network that we could already hit the 100,000 mark last 2014, they were also overwhelmed.”
“When we worked together toward the 100,000 mark, we even went beyond and achieved a 40-percent jump over 2013! This can be highly attributed to our dealer network, a strong, highly motivated and cohesive team. Our marketing group, on the other hand, who is in charge of the new model introductions, efficiently managed the timely and optimal vehicle supply with the manufacturing team all executing an effective strategy helping us attain 106,110 units last year,” he added.
Clearly, Sugata knows where credit is due, which greatly demonstrates his humility. He has headed TMP for six years and will turn over his position as company president to his successor in January this year. For sure, he will be sorely missed, not only for his accomplishments as TMP president, but also for humility. Members of the motoring press will always remember him for his being informal in a good number of occasions and his willingness to belt out a rock song, which should not be a surprise because he was a member of a rock band during his younger days.
Another proof of Sugata’s humility is his giving credit to his predecessor, Hiroshi Ito, for the phenomenal growth TMP achieved during his leadership of the automaker.
“I’m also thankful that the previous president, Hiroshi Ito san, who was my mentor in my younger days, set a direction of building a bigger and better Toyota. With my experiences and set of skills, I believe that in my six years, I was able to continue Ito san’s plans and even more as the president of TMP,” he added.
Although there is still the popular belief that Toyota vehicles sell in large numbers solely because of the Toyota brand, Sugata believes otherwise saying Filipino car buyers are not necessarily brand-loyal. Having been posted in other countries for the Toyota brand, Sugata knows the characteristics of vehicle buyers in certain countries.
“In my experiences in other countries, Filipino car buyers are more liberal and independent. It seems to me that they choose their cars solely based on their own decisions. Filipinos do not rely too much on their parents or friends’ advices. In that sense, I think brand loyalty of Filipinos is relatively low. That is our challenge,” he said.
But since he has headed TMP for six years and has learned to love the Philippines and admire its people, Sugata knows why the Toyota brand continues to sell in the country. One reason he cited is Filipinos love to exchange stories.
“In my six years assigned here in the Philippines, I’ve realized that Filipinos love stories. And when it comes to owning a Toyota, almost all Filipinos have a story to tell about their experience in owning one, whether it be with the much-loved Vios, or even the ‘big body’ Corolla – at the end of the day, Filipinos applaud our brand’s high resale value, quality, durability, reliability and its fulfilling ownership,” he added.
Still wary of the competition
Despite TMP leading vehicle sales, Sugata believes other car brands in the Philippines present a challenge to the Toyota brand, especially now that motorization is taking root in the country. He thus believes TMP’s position as the No. 1 automaker in the country is not necessarily secured.
“The automotive market has and always will be competitive, and I am fully aware that other brands have kept trying to bring us down. What Toyota will have to do is always be better than what we were yesterday. Every day and every moment, we will always try to be better,” he said.
Asked if which of the car companies in the country are eyeing TMP’s No. 1 position and which among them are the fiercer competitors, Sugata had this to say: “With the more competitive landscape in the automotive industry today, it is quite challenging to pinpoint who are the ‘fiercer’ ones among all the brands. One thing for certain is that, other automotive brands continuously introduce new and exciting models to entice the market.”
There is no doubt, however, that Toyota Motor Corporation of Japan has good partners in the Ty family of the Metrobank Group.
“A brand wouldn’t be as successful as it is if not for the people giving direction to the company. I am pleased to have met the Ty family under the guidance of Dr. George SK Ty for sharing the same ideals that make Toyota a success here in the Philippines,” Sugata said.
Over the next few years, Sugata is confident TMP can reach 200,000-unit sales in five years and 1.5 million units under service.
“As the leader in the local automotive industry, I believe Toyota will continue to be the primary choice of the Filipino public. Given the continuous growth of the total market, I only see bigger and better things for Toyota in the country,” he said.
While he is leaving his post at TMP, Sugata will continue to oversee the Philippine market for Toyota in his new posting.
“I will soon be overseeing more markets in the Asia-Pacific region and tackling other projects at TMAP [Toyota Motor Asia Pacific]-Japan. So I’ll still be overseeing the Philippine market for Toyota,” he said.
Sugata finds leaving TMP “bittersweet.”
“It is bittersweet, I must say. Although that is the case, I find comfort in knowing that Toyota believes there is always something better than what you have now. I will definitely miss TMP and everything else that comes with it,” he said.
Although he did not name his successor, Sugata believes in the ability of the next TMP president to lead the brand in the Philippines to new heights.
“I am excited for the incoming president of TMP for he will continue to bring Toyota Philippines to even greater heights. I am confident though that his experience and set of skills will lead to more milestones, more record-breaking runs and positive, new and memorable experiences for our customers,” he added.
And like most if not all Japanese who were posted in the Philippines, Sugata will be missing the country and its people. He also has very kind words for the Filipino professional and worker.
“It sounds cliché for most foreigners to say this, but what sets the Philippines apart from the other countries I’ve been to is the signature warmth and hospitality of every Filipino. Moreover, as the president of TMP for the past six years, I commend the Filipinos for being hardworking and passionate in what they do,” he said.
For sure, Sugata will return to the Philippines with his family to visit its beaches and to rekindle the ties he forged when he was heading TMP.
“If not on business, I will definitely come back for the beautiful beaches with my family and for the ties that I’ve left with my friends and colleagues in my years at TMP,” he added.
Sugata will definitely be missed by his friends and colleagues who have also known him for his humility.