DETROIT (AP) — Toyota's move from Los Angeles-area offices to a new U.S. headquarters in Texas is likely about more than tax incentives.
The company has been criticized for turning out dull-looking cars with appliance-like handling. Some experts say Toyota is after people with fresh ideas to shake up its culture and reverse a five-year slide in market share.
"Texas is known for being bold. It's not a subtle state," says Art Wheaton, an auto industry expert at Cornell University.
Texas lured Toyota with $40 million in incentives. And the 3,000 employees moving just north of Dallas over the next two years will be closer to factories in Texas, where Toyota believes they can make faster decisions.
Still, at least for the short term, the Japanese automaker's U.S. operations will remain heavily dependent on California, where it sells 22 percent of all cars, according to consulting firm IHS Automotive. Toyota had three of the top five best-selling vehicles in the state last year: the Toyota Prius hybrid, the midsize Camry and the compact Corolla.
Nationwide, however, Toyota's market share has dropped almost four percentage points from 17.8 percent in August of 2009. Each market share point is worth about 160,000 vehicles.
When Toyota announced the move to Texas this week, some Internet wits joked that the Japanese automaker would finally discover America. That's a stretch. Toyota has been selling cars in the U.S. for almost 60 years, and it has factories all over the country. But it's true that the freeways in Texas look a lot more like the rest of America than California's freeways do.
In Texas — and the country as a whole— Ford's F-Series and Chevrolet Silverado pickup trucks were the best-selling vehicles last year. Chrysler's Ram pickup wasn't far behind. The Toyota Camry and Nissan Altima were the only two cars among the top five in Texas last year.