Toyota: The Disruption is Complete


And so, those of you who have gray hair may remember that Toyota came into our market in the ‘60’s with a crummy, rusty, subcompact model called the Corona that no self-respecting non-college student would think of owning, and now they make Lexuses.
- Clayton Christensen

 Toyota has just passed GM for the first time ever as the global leader in automotive sales, selling 2.35 million vehicles to GM’s 2.26 from January to March. As the Detroit Free Press notes,

The idea of GM being passed by Toyota is something many longtime Detroiters thought they would never see. GM accounted for more than half of the U.S. market when B.J. McCown, a 71-year-old GM retiree from Taylor, started working at the company in 1955.

lexus2.jpgA few  days beforehand, Toyota announced by far its most expensive vehicle ever, the Lexus LS600h L, coming in at over $104,000, competing with Mercedes S-Class, BMW 7 Series, and Audi A8. As ever, the doubters say that no-one will pay that much for a Toyota, but that’s what they said when the Lexus brand was launch in the first place. Undoubtedly the 600h L will be a niche seller, but it will be interesting to see how it does compared to the non-hybrid version. Yes, this most expensive car is a gas-electric hybrid, just like its lowly Prius cousin. That’s what the badge circled in red in the photo above indicates. (Close-up at right.)

It still gets crummy mileage, though a few mpg better than than the standard LS460 in town. On the highway, the V8 LS460 actually does signicantly better than the hybrid due to the massive 887lb weight penalty that comes from the hybrid drive. But it will be an interesting experiment to see how the high end of the market reacts to hybrid technology.

GM has had intriguing speculations on new drivetrain technologies, such as the Hy-Wire concept, but is woefully behind Toyota on bringing fuel-saving technologies to market. At this rate it has a massive amount of work to do to recapture its #1 spot.

(The Christensen quote above can be found in the transcript of his talk at the 2004 Open Source Business Conference, and is also available as a podcast. It’s a very long talk (hour and 45 mins), but is basically a Clif Notes version of his book The Innovator’s Solution. It’s a fantastic talk. I listen to it once about every 6 months and always find something new in it. Put it on your iPod and listen to it on your next flight. In general, it’s worth browsing through a lot of the stuff on IT Conversations.)