In a previous column, I highlighted some recent changes to the Toyota Certified Collision Center program. But I also spoke with Toyota’s George Irving and Eric Mendoza about the automaker’s new training options, the impact of the pandemic on parts availability and more.
I told them that I hadn’t heard from shops that getting Toyota parts, even last spring, had been much of an issue.
“We’ve had virtually no issues with parts,” Irving, the national manager of service and collision operations for Toyota Motor North America, told me. “Our plants were only down for seven weeks, so we might have run into something if that had been extended, but so far it’s been really good. We’ve been very fortunate in that.”
I’d heard Toyota had built a state-of-the-art training center in Plano, Texas, but what I didn’t know was the company’s hands-on training in the Los Angeles area is also in a new facility. Mendoza, manager of collision operations for the automaker, was involved in the design of both training centers. He said they are equipped to offer ADAS and calibration training and have space for aluminum repair training if that material becomes a larger element in future Toyota vehicles.
“One of the big things for us was making sure the training centers were designed to help our instructors deliver good group training,” Mendoza said. “One example: The paint mixing room in the Plano facility is enormous. Having the ability to fit eight technicians and an instructor in the room really facilitates that training.”
How has the pandemic impacted hands-on training this past year? Mendoza said social distancing requirements have reduced maximum class size from eight students down to four. That’s meant Toyota has had to limit training to only those from certified collision centers. The company plans to eventually resume making the training available to independent shops that have a relationship with a dealership.
“Another change in terms of training in response to the pandemic is our courses for managers and estimators,” Mendoza said. Those classes previously had been held in conference rooms around the country. “At Irving’s direction, we went to the instructors and first asked: Can you deliver the training equally if not more effectively if it’s done virtually? We didn’t want them to just turn on the computer and start delivering the same class via webinar.”
Based on that feedback, Toyota provided the instructors with special training in online curriculum development and delivery, and together they redesigned the courses to optimize for remote learning, developing ways to ensure student engagement.
“Students certainly won’t go more than two or three slides in one of our virtual training classes without some sort of interaction with the instructor,” Mendoza said.
The classes are now divided up over several days.
“We learned that the mind can only absorb what the seat can endure,” Irving joked. “That’s a lot different for a person sitting at a desk at home or in a shop environment. We knew we couldn’t just take a one-day class and give it in one day. So the classes are now about three hours per day, with homework.”
I asked if Toyota foresees continuing with that format for the classes post-pandemic.
“We want to do what’s best for the dealers and students,” Irving said, telling me they are conducting surveys to see if this is a permanent change. “The jury is still out, but early indications are that we’re going down a very effective path.”
One other question I had for Toyota: Do they see the industry making increased use of Toyota’s Technical Information System (TIS) to research the automaker’s repair procedures?
“We’re not the department that monitors usage, but I’m confident that it’s growing,” Mendoza said. “It’s definitely not where we’d like it to be, but we do see more OEM procedure research, whether it’s through TIS or another source.”
“We think it will continue to grow because safety is so important,” Irving added. “With all the new safety systems on the cars, no one wants to take a risk of not having them fixed other than the way the manufacturer recommends. I don’t think you should even disconnect a battery without reading the OEM procedures.”
I appreciated Eric and George speaking with me so I could share what’s happening at Toyota.