The stakes were high. Toyota had spent more than $1 billion developing Lexus, and the dealers had spent over $500 million on facilities and equipment. The anticipation to drive the new LS400 was intense along with a healthy dose of anxiety.
Dr. and Mrs. Toyoda, the chief engineer and senior Japan executives would all be in attendance. We had now awarded 110 Lexus dealership points. Only 70 dealers would be operational by the September launch date, but it was anticipated that 90 dealers would be operational by the end of the year. All 110 dealers, their general managers, and spouses would be in attendance, as well as all Lexus Japan staff, associates, and their spouses.
The first day was spent at Laguna Seca Raceway. The dealers drove the LS400 around the 2.2-mile racetrack. Jim Russell Driving School instructors supervised the activities. I climbed into the back seat of an LS400 driven by NASCAR team owner and Lexus dealer Rick Hendricks. But I had to get out after a couple of laps because he drove so fast through the corkscrew that I got nauseous. The dealers were thrilled with the LS400’s power, handling, and quietness and declared it a homerun!
The ES250 was driven on a slalom course in the paddock area inside the track. As expected, the dealers showed only mild interest in the ES250, but it was quietly accepted as an adequate second car until the new ES300 would be available.
The following morning, we held a business meeting to go over the customer satisfaction efforts and marketing plans for the upcoming months. The one negative overshadowing the meeting was the economy.
USA Today headlines warned of danger ahead for the stock market, asking, “Could we crash again?” The story quoted experts, “asking whether we’re risking another horrendous stock market crash.”
Alex Taylor of Fortune magazine wrote, “Their (Lexus) timing is terrible. U.S. car sales are the weakest in five years, and big-ticket imports are particularly in trouble.”
Csaba Csere, editor of Car and Driver magazine, declared,” I don’t think they (Lexus) have prayer in the world of meeting their sales objectives.”
To overcome all the negativity about the economy and Lexus, we closed the meeting by telling the dealers a story about the conquest of Mount Everest.
In 1850, an English explorer named George Everest was surveying the Himalayan mountain range when he discovered the highest peak in the world at 29,000+ feet. Today that mountain is known as Mount Everest.
For more than 100 years, men tried to climb Mount Everest and failed. It was said, “It was impossible. It can’t be done.”
In March of 1953, an English expedition led by Sir John Hurst began an ascent on the mountain. For six weeks the expedition grimly struggled up the side of the mountain. Every day there were snowstorms. For five days in a row, blizzards dumped 12 to 15 inches of snow a day on the climbers.
Finally, the expedition reached 27,000 feet. No one had ever gotten this close to the summit. They had been living on a pound of sugar a day and warm lemon juice. They were exhausted, suffering from sore throats, colds, the agony of frozen limbs, and pounding headaches from the lack of oxygen.
Two men in the party refused to give up. Strapped with 50 pounds of oxygen on their backs and wearing six layers of clothing, these two men set out to conquer the final 2,000 feet.
They struggled, sinking in snow up to their hips, while fierce winds drove them to their knees and back down the mountain. Each step took a concentrated effort but on May 29, 1953, a New Zealander named Sir Edmund Hillary and a Nepalese Sherpa named Tenzing Norgay did what others said could not be done. They did the impossible. In an epic feat of courage, endurance, and determination, they conquered Mount Everest.
What did these two men know that made it possible for them to do what others said could not be done? What was their secret?
The answer to that question lies back in 1922. Another English expedition attempted to climb Mount Everest but failed. When the participants returned to England, they wrote a list of the three essential qualifications it would take for someone to climb Everest:
1. Physical fitness.
2. “Singleness of purpose” and an “unwavering faith in its achievement.”
3. Belief that “this one thing I can do, and I am confident it can be done.”
If you think you can’t, you won’t. If you think you can, you will.
We can. We will.
We gave each of the dealers a picture of Mount Everest with the words across the bottom: “We can. We will.”
“What do you mean, ‘If I can?’ Jesus asked. ‘Anything is possible if a person believes.’” Mark 9:23 (NLT)
After the dealer meeting, it was time to introduce the Lexus LS400 and ES250 in short-led press events to the newspaper writers. The short-lead and long-lead magazine articles would start appearing in August just as the cars were arriving at the dealerships. We were all holding our breath. The cover of Automobile magazine screamed, “WAR! Japan attacks Germany.”
(To be continued in “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”)