A woman's touch

Borneo Motors' new managing director Jasmmine Wong plans to expand Toyota's product line-up here with models such as the Supra and Prius Plus

As the newly appointed managing director of Borneo Motors, Ms Jasmmine Wong intends to bring in a wider range of models, such as the new Toyota C-HR.
As the newly appointed managing director of Borneo Motors, Ms Jasmmine Wong intends to bring in a wider range of models, such as the new Toyota C-HR.PHOTO: BORNEO MOTORS

Ms Jasmmine Wong exudes a quiet confidence and steely conviction as she lays out her plans to transform Toyota distributor Borneo Motors and the brand it represents.

As the newly appointed managing director of the company that is owned by the London-based multinational vehicle distributor and retailer, her first order of things is to make Toyota - a brand synonymous with reliability - "more fun, more sexy".

It would be a tall order by any standard, but the 42-year-old, who had cut her teeth in the food industry (with Nestle) is undaunted. As the first woman to helm Borneo - also known to be as conservative as the brand it represents - Ms Wong believes she brings with her a fresh perspective.

To start, she is planning to bring in a wider range of models - and not necessarily only models which are volume sellers - and also to make existing models more appealing.

The new Vios sedan, to be launched next month, will be the first. "This time, it is very different," Ms Wong says. "It has seven airbags, and it's much roomier. It's actually closer to the Altis."

Next will be the new and funky C-HR crossover, which will debut at the Singapore Motorshow in January. It will be a 1.2 turbocharged variant, with two-tone paintwork and "a high level of customisation that is uniquely Borneo".

This will be followed by the Prius Plus, which Ms Wong says could potentially replace the Wish as "an affordable and modern seven-seater".

"We're trying for a sweet spot in the pricing," she says, adding that the car should arrive by the third quarter of next year.

The Wish will continue to be available for another six to seven months before it is retired, she adds.

She reveals that a subcompact sport utility vehicle (SUV) may join the stable too - along with a seven-seat version of the Harrier, a popular SUV. They could arrive by late 2019.

But before these, the new Camry will debut in the fourth quarter of next year. Radically different from the current Camry, it is expected to appeal to younger buyers.

The most exciting model, however, must be the Supra, a rear-wheel-drive sports model which Toyota is co-developing with BMW. It will have 3-litre and 2-litre turbocharged inline engines from the Bavarian marque and is slated to arrive in 2019.

Ms Wong admits something like the Supra will not sell in high volume, but is nonetheless crucial in transforming the image of Toyota here.

Towards this end, she plans to implement new branding and communication initiatives. She says Borneo offers a host of customer services, but "we seldom shout about them". This will change.

As for Toyota's luxury brand Lexus, the new MD says: "We're very excited about the new LS. We've been getting a lot of inquiries. Now our challenge is whether we have enough cars to meet demand."

The LS sedan is Lexus' flagship vehicle.

The LS350 base model driven by a 3.5-litre normally-aspirated V6 will arrive in January, to be followed by the 3.5-litre twin-turbo V6 LS500 flagship and hybrid LS500h in the second quarter.

A facelift of the Lexus NX crossover SUV is also planned for January, with a full model change of the popular ES sedan in the second half.

Ms Wong says she is also mulling over Category A Lexus models (up to 1,600cc and 130bhp), but concedes it is a delicate exercise.

"We're here for the long-term, not short-term gains," she says, explaining that entering the Category A mass market may compromise the exclusive image of Lexus.

Over at fellow Inchcape company and Suzuki agent Champion Motors, which she is also in charge of, Ms Wong says a new Swift will arrive in the second quarter of next year, followed possibly by the new Swift Cross and Swift Turbo in 2019.

She is also looking at introducing K-car models here - micro cars which are popular in Japan - to target the millennials.

Beyond jazzing up the product line-up, Ms Wong is looking at reviewing the group's policy for parallel-imported cars. She may, for instance, devise special repair and servicing packages for them which would not diminish the treatment accorded to Borneo customers.

For a start, she confirms that Borneo will accept and rectify parallel imports that are affected by safety recalls. "In Hong Kong, there is no differentiation between parallel imports and authorised cars," she says.

Married with two children - a 12-year-old girl and a 10-year-old boy - Ms Wong admits to being a car nut. She has owned and driven cars from Porsche, Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz, and is currently driving a Lexus LS460.

"I love cars a lot," she says. "I'm looking forward to the LS500.

"This is my first experience with a Lexus and now that I've experienced it, I believe I will drive a Lexus even if I'm not with Inchcape."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 18, 2017, with the headline 'A woman's touch'. Subscribe