South America is dominated by General Motors, Fiat and Volkswagen, which maintain a combined 60 percent of the market share - Toyota holds a mere 4.5 percent. The WSJ spoke with Steve St. Angelo, Toyota's boss in Latin America, who said, "We are playing catch up, but we're catching up fast. We now have the resources to give the region the attention it really needs and deserves."
That attention includes an all-new, locally produced small car called the Etios. As bewildering as it seems, Toyota wasn't competing in the low-cost economy car market in South America. With the Etios, which arrived in September of 2012, its sales in the first seven months of 2013 are up 75 percent.
Toyota is also expanding on its local infrastructure, which includes the $600 million Sorocabo factory, located near São Paulo, which builds the Etios. The Japanese brand is also constructing a $410 million engine facility in Porto Feliz, which is slated to open in the second half of 2015.
The executive shakeup executed by Akio Toyoda back in March is also starting to pay dividends for the Japanese brand in South America. That reshuffle was meant to give regional bosses freer reign over the decision-making process in their respective regions, and in turn, allow the Japanese brand to be more flexible. St. Angelo, who was elevated to the head of Latin America and the Caribbean as part of the rearrangement, told the WSJ, "It's pretty remarkable that we made these changes within the first year of production. We didn't have to go through a bunch of paperwork, and go ask Japan for permission. We knew it was the right thing to do for the customer and we took fast action."