WASHINGTON – The head of Toyota for Latin America and the Caribbean, Steve St. Angelo, believes that, despite current economic difficulties, the region has a lot of potential and says the Japanese automaker is “strategically very optimistic” about the Latin American market.
For the second straight year, St. Angelo will take part in the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Annual Conference and National Latino Family Expo in Orlando, Florida, where he will address the approximately 2,000 guests.
In a telephone interview from Orlando with EFE, St. Angelo, who directs from Sao Paulo the operations of Toyota in 40 countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, said “it is an honor” to be invited another year to the La Raza conference.
“It’s an honor that they have invited me to give a speech. NCLR has been a great ally of Toyota for more than 17 years. And Toyota has sponsored the conference, which allows us not only to get involved in the Hispanic community in the U.S., but is also a chance to thank them for their loyalty to Toyota,” he said.
St. Angelo, who was named in 2013 as head of Toyota for Latin America and the Caribbean, acknowledged that his work in the region has allowed him “to better appreciate the United States’ connection with Latin America” to the point that “it’s hard to think of one surviving without the other.”
He said he’s not concerned about the current economic difficulties in countries like Brazil, because Toyota is optimistic about the future of Latin America.
“In Toyota we really think in the medium and long term. We see these challenges as opportunities,” said St. Angelo, who compared the region to the shares of a solid company that is going through some hard times on the stock exchange.
“Now is the time to buy. Latin America is good value. And in Toyota, particularly those of us in the region, we are strategically very optimistic about the Latin American market. And we talk more about opportunities than problems,” he said.
St. Angelo added that there are objective data on which to base his optimism. The first is demographics.
“It is estimated the population will grow from today’s 636 million to 678 million by 2020. In just four years! The population increase means more drivers and a greater need for individual transportation,” he said.
“Another number that is very interesting is the proportion of people who own vehicles. The rate in Latin America is only 1.6 for every 10 people. In Japan it’s 5, in South Korea it’s 6, and in the United States it’s 8.”
“There are many opportunities and a lot of growth in Latin America. Things might be a little difficult right now, but they’ll get better and we’re definitely going to see opportunities,” he said.
St. Angelo evaluated Toyota’s recent investments in Latin America at $800 million, which included the renovation of its plant in Argentina and the creation of an engineering center in Brazil.
Though since he took charge of the region, Toyota’s market share has increased from 5.3 percent in 2013 to 8.5 percent in 2015 and to 10 percent so far this year, St. Angelo said he didn’t want to focus too much on such objectives.
“We like to think of our company in Latin America as a tree,” but rather than concentrate “on the fruit of the tree,” in other words on sales, we want to concentrate “on the roots,” on the quality of service Toyota offers and the company’s contribution to society.
“For me, that’s more important than chasing after market share,” he said.
In that regard, St. Angelo said he feels “very proud” of the work he has done to increase Toyota’s involvement in social projects, like the Scholas program inspired by Pope Francis, to which the Japanese automaker has contributed in countries like Argentina and Guatemala.