Sales VP says Venza fills a need

GEORGETOWN — Before speaking at Monday's launch of the Venza, Don Esmond, senior vice president at Toyota Motor Sales, answered the Herald-Leader's questions about the crossover, the economy and more.

On expectations for Venza: "A lot of people went from cars to SUVs and certainly when the price of fuel went up, a lot of folks migrated back to cars. But they're missing a lot of what they enjoyed with the SUV. So I think Venza has done a good job ... to kind of address the great aspects of an automobile in terms of driving, seating position ... but it brings with it the advantages of an SUV, like plenty of storage and all-wheel drive."

On the impact the economy would have on Venza sales: "Now is the best time to launch a new vehicle. You want a product that's going to address today's needs. If you've got a warmed-over product and the only way you're going to (sell) it is incentives, it's not the best way in today's marketplace."

On Toyota's dealerships and their ability to weather the crunch: "They have the highest sales per outlet in the industry, so they're certainly prepared to survive tough times maybe a little better than some of the other dealers in the marketplace. ... The best thing we do (to help) is introduce new products like the Venza."

On the American competition's struggles to survive: "It's not good for any of us in this kind of market. On the one hand, we're good competitors and want to compete with them in the marketplace. On the other hand, we don't want them to fail because it's not good for anybody. ... We have a lot of common suppliers."

On the future of the Solara, a Georgetown-produced vehicle that was to be discontinued but was kept on after sales picked up because of its fuel efficiency: "At least it gives us a convertible in the marketplace. ... How much longer? I don't know. In today's market, we've got to concentrate probably on our bread-and-butter products (like the Camry). We'll just have to wait and see."

On the importance of domestic design (such as Venza's): "If I go back to those early years, a lot of our products were compromises. Japan built products that were adapted for the U.S. market. ... We introduced the minivan before Chrysler did. But it was a mid-engine, four-cylinder, and I remember, time after time, talking to the chief engineer, 'Hey, we want front-wheel drive, V-6 ...' and at the time, you had to check the oil by lifting the driver's seat up. We got the Previa, but we didn't get what we wanted. ... Fast-forward to today, whether it be Camry, Avalon, Sienna, Tundra, Venza, you can just list off all the products that were designed and built for the U.S. marketplace. It gives us not only the flexibility of manufacturing but the ability to respond to the tastes of this country."