He's corporate royalty in Japan, where "Toyota" is an icon, and Akio Toyoda has the status of a prince. Thursday on the heels of running the gauntlet from lawmakers over safety issues the day before, the head of Toyota came to Kentucky.
He first visited the Georgetown Toyota plant, which is the company's largest manufacturing facility in North America. In his first visit to the plant, he met Governor Beshear, top executives, and line workers.
Mr. Toyoda then travelled from Georgetown to Toyota on Nicholasville in Jessamine County. The visit came as a surprise to Charles Clayton when he showed up at Toyota on Nicholasville to look at a used Camry. "I'd seen him on national television. I'm surprised he's still standing after that," Clayton said.
After a few moments, Toyota's top executive made a strong impression. "He's a good salesperson," Clayton said, "got a good smile and everything, yeah that impressed me." Did it seal the deal? "Pretty well, yeah," Clayton said.
Pervis Wicker told the CEO he's been buying Toyotas for more than twenty years. "He's just a normal fellow, puts his pants on same way I do," Wicker told 27 Newsfirst.
Akio Toyoda tells 27 Newsfirst Kentucky was an important trip for him to make the day after he testified before Congress. "Oh the Kentucky is our first plant in the United States, so the longest history of our manufacturing plants," Toyoda said.
Toyoda says he wanted to come to the dealership to see some of the work being done on recalled vehicles.
Service technician Lance Putnam says he wasn't nervous about the visit, but he couldn't help get a kick out of it. "It's pretty cool to get to demonstrate that to the CEO of Toyota. I mean not just North America, but The Guy," Putnam said.
After a difficult day in the nation's capital addressing concerns about the safety of the cars that bare his name, Toyoda welcomed the very different reception from loyal customers. "He's concerned about his product, and he seems like he's concerned about the people that buy his product, so I guess he's trying to protect his interests, which I would too if I had that much money," Wicker said.