Does Don Valley North Toyota have it roots in Japan? It’s a Toyota dealership, so obviously. So does Mississauga Honda. But Oakville Volkswagen? Mercedes- Benz Barrie? They also have their roots in Japan as both belong to a dealer group owned by a Japan- based parent company.
The VW and Mercedes-Benz stores are just the latest additions to the 10-store Weins Canada group, which traces its Canadian roots back to 1973. That’s when the late Kanji Miyahara, the outward-looking founder of Yokohama Toyopet Company Ltd. in Yokohama, Japan, opened Don Valley North Toyota in the northern suburbs of Toronto.
The Weins name came later, an acronym of West East North South with Information in the middle, reflecting Kanji senior’s glob-al vision founded on “synergy by information.”
For many years Don Valley North’s Canadian face was Vice-President of Operations Dave Lalonde, though there were always Japanese managers in the background.
Today, Kanji Miyahara’s son Ikuo runs head office in Japan, while Ikuo’s own son, Toro, now heads up the Canadian operation. Toro was born in Canada in 1979 while his father was running Don
Valley North Toyota Ltd. The family moved back to Japan in 1988 and Toro completed his education there.
After graduating in economics, Toro worked at Toyota Motor Corp. for seven years, before joining the family business in Canada in 2009. He assumed the presidency of Weins Canada in 2011.
As of 2007, the group comprised two Toyota and two Lexus stores. That fit the tradition in Japan where, Toro says, “Nobody sells their business. The relationship between the manufacturer and the dealer is extremely strong. So if you are a Toyota dealer in Japan you will never become a Nissan or Honda or other Japanese manufacturer’s dealer.”
But that changed in Canada in 2008, when the group established Don Valley North Hyundai.
Since then, the roster has added Audi and Volkswagen in Oakville, Subaru and Mercedes-Benz stores in Barrie, and most recently Mississauga Honda. The 10 stores in Canada are barely five per cent of the parent company’s total dealership portfolio (191), yet the Canadian operation accounted for 16 per cent (11,680 out of 74,426) of group sales in 2015.
Toro calls Japan one of the world’s most advanced markets because dealers there have learned to survive in a new-car market that has halved in size from its early-’90s peak of six million.
It’s not the economy, he says, but rather changing consumer attitudes. Younger urban buyers, especially, don’t see the need to spend money on buying, insuring and parking a car when Japan has a great public transportation system, and car sharing or rental are other options.