A push to get the Toyota Prius hybrid into UAE showrooms, express service centres and a separation of the Lexus and Toyota brands and are all part of Simon Frith's plans for the future. Frith is the managing director of Al Futtaim Motors, sole distributor of Toyota and Lexus for the UAE, and he says that the company's newest innovation - a state of the art service centre and dealership in Abu Dhabi - as well as future plans are all part of ensuring customer focused, long-term growth.
"We've got an investment programme where we're spending more than Dh3 million each year, upgrading existing premises and increasing our presence in Abu Dhabi where our market is growing the fastest," Frith says. "I am not interested in just growing in the next year, I am talking about long-term, sustainable growth." One of the bolder moves to ensure Toyota builds on its 35 per cent market share in the UAE is a bid to get the Toyota Prius hybrid, the eco-friendly small car famously driven by Cameron Diaz and Leonardo DiCaprio, sold in the UAE.
"If I had my way, it'd be in the showrooms today," says Frith, adding that he is currently in negotiations with Toyota Motor Company to determine a timetable for when the car can go on sale here. Frith firmly believes that low fuel prices should not stand in the way of consumer interest in the Prius. "With the Prius, I feel there is the market for it now as people will buy it because 'this says something about me' regardless of the price of petrol," says Frith.
He cites the opening of the Dubai Metro and the Dubai RTA testing Toyota Camry hybrids for the past two years as evidence that the UAE authorities are interested in sustainable transport. "For nearly two years we've been testing the hybrid taxis and not one of them has had any problem with the hybrid system or batteries and the test doesn't get any tougher [than being used as a Dubai taxi]." Looking around the new service centre in Abu Dhabi's Musaffah district, Frith says the project was originally planned as a temporary fixture but it has already proven such a success with customers that it is now considered permanent.
"The active service reception is great from a customer point of view - they don't want to be looking for a car spot, here they can just drive up and right into reception and it's air-conditioned," he says. Convenience is also the aim with five "Formula One" service centres that are planned to open soon, first for Dubai and then for Abu Dhabi. These centres will offer an express service where cars will be driven into the workshop and customers can watch the service conducted by a team of mechanics through a glass wall - "for total transparency" - while having a coffee or a snack.
"By the time they've had a coffee and read the paper, the car should be ready - people don't want to leave their cars all day at a service centre," says Frith. Creating a distinction between the Toyota and Lexus brands in terms of dealerships, servicing and marketing is "a big part of the agenda" for the coming year, Frith says. "We have a firm commitment to separate Lexus and Toyota and a significant part of that is the the hiring of a new GM for Lexus operations, who started three weeks ago."
Multiple Toyota and Lexus recalls in the past year have not adversely affected business in the UAE. Frith admits that there would certainly be some potential buyers who may have decided to choose a competitor over Toyota or Lexus, but adds that customers have been "very impressed" with the way that Al Futtaim Motors dealt with the recall. "Customers who wanted their cars checked for any issues were very quickly dealt with and we set up a hotline so that customers would always be informed on any new developments," says Frith.
He would not be drawn on whether any of the incidents surrounding the recalls involved bad driving rather than bad manufacturing or design. "It doesn't matter," he says. "Customers will take recalls and bad reports at face value and it is our duty to respond to that." email@example.com