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Blazing New Trails

April 2011, F&I and Showroom - Cover Story

by Justina Ly

The XPLORE edition FJ Cruiser, shown above, sports a rooftop tent, off-road tires and XPLORE badging.
The XPLORE edition FJ Cruiser, shown above, sports a rooftop tent, off-road tires and XPLORE badging.

One can’t walk into the showroom at Toyota of Escondido (Calif.) without noticing the olive-green FJ Cruiser — outfitted with a rooftop tent and intake snorkel — parked in the middle of the floor. Curious customers seated in the dealership’s lobby get up from their seats to walk around the vehicle. They check out the knobby, off-road tires, stare up at the tent and peek through the FJ’s windows for a glimpse of the leather interior and the refrigerator/freezer in the cargo area. Clearly, this is not your everyday SUV.

The outdoor-ready FJ Cruiser has been on the Southern California dealership’s show floor for nearly four weeks, and this scene has played out repeatedly in front of Tom Belt, the general sales manager. His office, which he refers to as the “fishbowl” because of its 180-degree view of the showroom, has given him a front-row seat to all the action.

“I was amazed at what a magnet it was. People would come and start looking at it,” he says. “We didn’t have any pricing on it. It wasn’t for sale, but it did draw a crowd.”

The fully equipped FJ Cruiser is undoubtedly eye candy, but it’s practical enough for any outdoor enthusiast. The accessories are part of a ready-to-assemble equipment package called the XPLORE Adventure Series. It was created by Venchurs, an Adrian, Mich.-based packaging, kitting and supply-chain management company.

Australia’s ARB 4x4 Accessories supplied the two-man, rooftop tent and metal access ladder, as well as the snorkel air intake and front and rear bumpers. XPLORE-inspired aluminum wheels, BFGoodrich all-terrain tires and a MagnaFlow stainless steel exhaust round out the exterior. On the inside, the vehicle touts an XPLORE-branded leather-and-suede interior provided by Montebello, Calif.-based Katzkin, a dash badge and floormats with embroidered XPLORE logos.

Toyota of Escondido’s Scott Whitehead (left), general manager, and Tom Belt, general sales manager, believe accessory sales will improve sales figures.
Toyota of Escondido’s Scott Whitehead (left), general manager, and  Tom Belt, general sales manager, believe accessory sales will improve  sales figures.

In March, Toyota of Escondido became the first dealership in the United States to carry the XPLORE Adventure Series, which offers equipment packages for several makes and models. Belt agrees it might not be for every market, but says that’s not the case for his market, which sits 30 miles north of San Diego.

“This place isn’t like San Diego. There’s a lot of outdoor activity going on here, and lot of our customers like to bike ride, camp and fish,” Belt says. “Although I wouldn’t be surprised to see one of these tents in downtown San Diego.”

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