As the vice president of African-American business strategy for Toyota Motor Sales, James Colon carries enormous clout in the strong relationship that the auto giant maintains with the Black community. The Toyota brands have consistently earned high marks among African American consumers, and a great deal of that success is a testimony to Colon, who keeps the company plugged in with this key auto-buying demographic.
Colon’s love affair with cars began as a young boy in Gary, Indiana, where he’d spend hours building and racing his toy rides. Today, he has realized his passion for automobiles and has spent 30 years working throughout the Toyota organization in areas of sales, marketing and dealer development.
Deeply committed to several social, education and civic issues, Colon devotes a great deal of his free time on behalf of the United Negro College Fund, the Congressional Black Congress Foundation and the Board of Trustees for Manchester and Clark-Atlanta Universities.
EBONY.com recently spoke with this seriously well-informed auto executive to find out more about trending topics in the auto industry.
EBONY: Why has it been important for Toyota to maintain a relationship with the African-American community?
James Colon: It’s a business imperative for Toyota to be engaged with the African-American community. In 2014, 25% of the cars and trucks that we sell are purchased by ethnic minority consumers. Toyota’s commitment to the African-American community is seen through our marketing and sales efforts, and also through the philanthropy and community engagement we take part in.
EBONY: What is Toyota doing to address the growing concerns related to carbon emissions?
James Colon: Toyota leads the industry when it comes to manufacturing environmentally sound cars. We’ve sold over one million Prius cars over the past 12 years. Consumers like our product and realize that they have an impact on the overall environment. In 2015, Toyota will continue that trend with the introduction of the first hydrogen fuel cell car.
EBONY: How is Toyota planning to improve its “green car” market share among communities of color?
James Colon: We want our cars to be popular with everyone. Toyota’s green initiative works with HBCUs to introduce that generation of car buyers to environmental sustainability. We want them to understand why our cars are important to the environment and to their community.
It’s important that everyone gets the message that green cars are very often mid-priced cars that get more than 50 miles per gallon. Certainly people want a stylish car, but they also want their transportation to be affordable and functional. It’s all about choices and understanding your options. You can buy a car that will allow you to keep money in your pocket to do other things, or a big SUV with a big gas bill.
EBONY: What advice would you give to the next generation of African-American executives who are looking to make an impact in the auto world?
James Colon: I’m fortunate to get the opportunity to talk to a lot of the younger folks who are in our manager-training program, particularly those in our field marketing and sales programs. The advice I give is to make sure that this, or whatever you choose, is what you really want to do. There are different career paths for everyone, so make sure you’re on the one you want to be on. I recommend that you become a student of whatever industry that you are interested in entering. Learn everything that you can learn, which includes understanding all the areas of the way your company works. Also, look for ways that your natural talent can add value to your brand.
Gil Robertson IV is an award-winning journalist, bestselling author and president of the African-American Film Critics Association.