The Unobvious Ones is a monthly look at movers and shakers who fly below the radar in the Canadian auto industry.
HELPING TOYOTA DEALERS NAVIGATE PANDEMIC-RELATED VEHICLE SUPPLY ISSUES
Getting cars to customers involves understanding sales targets, dealer volumes, competitors and what products are available. As the national manager for sales and inventory planning at Toyota Canada in Toronto, Rebecca Wu puts all those variables together.
“There isn’t a typical day in my job, especially as we’re dealing with shortages in production,” Wu said.
As with other automakers, Toyota’s vehicle output has been hit by the global microchip shortage and industrywide supply-chain issues, which impact dealer inventory. In Canada, Toyota builds the RAV4 and the Lexus NX and RX crossovers.
“I have a team of 30 people, but we’re still all working from home, so it’s back-to-back [online] meetings about sales, inventory and what next year will look like.
“We work with our dealers and help them plan in these times as well, with the vehicles we’ll launch and the inventory we’ll get. It’s a lot of planning effort.”
Wu, who speaks English, French and Cantonese, studied translation techniques at York University in Toronto. She was hired by Toyota in 1999 to translate documents such as manuals, training programs and technical bulletins.
“Two years in, I went into public relations. Toyota has a rotation culture because we want people to understand the business and try different things and see what works for them. In [the public relations] role, you have to understand the corporation in addition to the vehicles.”
Six years later she moved into marketing, working her way up to national manager for Toyota. She took on her current role in August.
THE CALL OF DUTY: WORKING WITH WHAT IS LIKELY CANADA’S TOUGHEST CLIENT
Mercedes-Benz Canada has a unique fleet customer: the Canadian Armed Forces. And as the automaker’s manager for Defence Program, Stanley Ing, sells and oversees conversion of the G-Class utility vehicle for military duty.
“With another colleague, I support their technical modifications and repair and overhaul. I’m also involved in future sales, and we have two sales projects coming up with the Canadian Armed Forces.”
The contracts include a cargo vehicle and vehicles for the military police, and command and reconnaissance. The military versions are similar to the consumer G-Class, but they are stripped down on the inside, fitted with communications systems and can be modified with weapons stations and armour.
Ing coordinates their production, which includes suppliers in Germany and Canada.
“My days include conference calls with German colleagues, meetings with Mercedes-Benz for parts, participating in progress-review meetings with the Department of National Defence (DND), and as needed, calls with the DND Technical Authority.”
Ing, 68, earned a master’s degree in international relations from the University of Toronto and was hired as a research associate on strategic studies at York University. In 1985, he was asked to join a National Defence think-tank as a policy analyst and then became a senior adviser on aerospace industries for the Ontario government. He worked for Airbus for eight years until MercedesBenz, which at that time partly owned Airbus, asked him to help with the G-Class program. When a Canadian Armed Forces contract for 1,159 G-Wagons was signed in 2004, Ing joined MercedesBenz’s fleet program.
“Defence is tougher than commercial fleet because there are more policies and layers of administration. All the parts have to be catalogued by the army so they can order them. It takes more time, and you just have to be patient.”
EXPERIENTIAL MARKETER ‘LOVES’ THE ADVENTURE
Before a new vehicle goes on sale, there needs to be hands-on experience for dealership personnel, media, automaker employees and even some customers. Setting up such an event is a huge amount of work that’s now second nature to Jud Buchanan, president of Vehicle Dynamics Group (VDG) in Campbellville, 65 kilometres southwest of Toronto.
“We were an experiential marketing company before most people even knew what that was,” he said. “We can do everything from a simple drive program to completely turnkey with travel, accommodations, meals and entertainment.”
Buchanan, 68, always loved cars. He raced autocross as a hobby, starting in 1976, and won the Canadian Auto Slalom Championship in 1983 and the Ontario title a year later.
In 1985, he joined Yokohama Tire as national marketing communications manager, in charge of public relations, motorsport and advertising. But he longed to be his own boss and founded VDG in 2000.
“Every program is built about the vehicle, so I first get educated on it, so we can put it in an environment that represents what a broad swath of consumers might expect from it. We have digitized topographical maps of North America and we build the route on our proprietary GPS, work out the timing and where we need to put our personnel.”
Buchanan has eight employees, plus 10 contract workers who ship the vehicles, clean them and ensure all participants are accounted for along the driving routes.
“I’m passionate about the adventure, the challenge of organizing things, and everything about the cars.”