Toyota Dealers Review

The biggest-spending Toyota dealer association in the U.S. is poised to launch a review of its estimated $90 million creative account, sources said last week.

The group, which comprises more than 100 dealers in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, accounts for roughly one-quarter of the more than $330 million spent annually by Toyota dealers in the U.S, according to CMR.

The Greater New York Toyota Dealers Association has hired New York consultancy Roth Associates to manage the search, said sources. The incumbent, Saatchi & Saatchi in New York, is expected to defend.

The review is in its early stages, with a decision expected in August. Roth did not return calls. Executives at Saatchi, which has handled the business for more than 20 years, were unavailable for comment.

Saatchi handles the car maker’s $625 million national factory business out of Torrance, Calif. Publicis Groupe sister Team One in El Segundo, Calif., has the $225 million account of Lexus, Toyota’s luxury brand.

It is unclear what sparked the search. In recent years, however, some of the agency faces on the business have changed. In April 2001, Joe Cronin, worldwide account director on Toyota, installed a new management director on the New York dealer account: Kevin Honey, a former account field director on Oldsmobile at Leo Burnett. Honey succeeded Earl King, who shifted to the new role of chief marketing officer on the business. Cronin and King have both since left the agency. Chairman emeritus Stu Upson, however, has maintained a close relationship with the dealers, and the shop has added management help from Team One.

Word of the review comes as Saatchi L.A. CEO Scott Gilbert is transferring to New York to become a managing partner. In L.A., where Toyota represents all but a sliver of the office’s billings, Gilbert was the main contact for the factory client.

Saatchi’s most recent New York dealer ads have focused on low monthly payments and financing deals. One spot shows shots of passing Tundra and Tacoma models to the tune of an original song featuring the chorus, “I need a thrill.” At one point, a voiceover says, “Here’s your thrill. Exceptional truck deals.” Those spots followed a 15-month campaign starring comedian and actor Robert Wuhl of HBO’s Arli$$.

In the past three years, Saatchi has seen its grip on dealer business around the country loosen. In 2000, it lost the $70 million Southeast Toyota Distributors account to WestWayne in Atlanta after a review. That same year, the Arkansas Toyota Dealers Association shifted its $2 million account from Saatchi to Omni Automotive in Birmingham, Ala. Omni, division of Intermark Group, took more business from Saatchi two months ago, nabbing the $15 million Gulf States Toyota business, which represents dealers in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi.

Sources said the regional groups operate independently of each other and the factory client. As such, the dealer reviews do not appear to be related and have no bearing on the national account, which Saatchi has handled since 1975.