The gig: William D. Fay is group vice president and general manager for the Toyota division of Toyota Motor Sales USA. That puts the 57-year-old in charge of overseeing all sales, marketing and consumer support for the regional sales offices and distributors for both Toyota and its sub-brand Scion.

Driving to the basket: Fay didn't think much about cars growing up in West Orange, N.J. He was "more of a sports kid," he said. He played basketball in high school and for Monmouth College, where he graduated with a degree in business administration in 1978. In college a friend of a friend passed him his first car — a ratty, blue Volkswagen bus. Fay didn't own a new car until he started working at Toyota in 1982.

First gear: After college, Fay worked a series of "quick jobs," he said. The most formative involved selling auto leases for a small company in New Jersey, which piqued Fay's interest in the financial aspect of the auto industry. "It was an eye-opener in terms of dollars and cents," Fay said. "There was a whole world there that was intriguing to me."

Fay got his first job at Toyota after a college friend starting working there. "It didn't take long for him to tell me that Toyota was a good company with a developing product line," Fay said. "I thought it was a good opportunity to make a turn in the road and get going." His first title was regional distribution analyst.

Speeding up: By 1995, Fay had worked his way up to general manager of Toyota's distribution at the New England division. "This was my first real big step in being given a fair amount of responsibility," Fay said, with roughly 50 people reporting to him directly.

Hitting the brakes: In 2006, Fay had moved west and started running the biggest distribution arm Toyota owned in Los Angeles. After a stellar year of just over 283,000 sales for the division, Fay began preparing his dealers to hit the 300,000 mark in 2007.

Instead, the recession hit — especially in California — and sales dropped to 145,000 by 2009. The sudden shift from expectation to reality "turned out to be a bit embarrassing," despite the fact that no one had forecast such a precipitous drop, Fay said. This taught Fay a lesson.

"Always have a plan B," Fay said. "Always try to make sure your team is preparing for an outcome not currently in your plans now."

Bumpy ride: In the spring of 2010, Fay was tapped for the job of vice president of marketing at Toyota — at a particularly bad time for the company's image. This was just months after Toyota had issued a series of massive recalls of millions of vehicles related to reports of unintended acceleration and ill-fitting floor mats.

Toyota's woes were further compounded by the 2011 earthquake and subsequent tsunami that rocked Japan. The disaster had a particularly devastating effect on Japanese automakers and their supply chains. As a result, sales suffered globally.

Personally and professionally, it was a trying time for Fay and for his employer. "The circumstances of 2010 and 2011 were among the most challenging I've ever had to go through," he said.

Yet Fay says he was proud to watch the company engineer a turnaround quicker than many expected. Although some of the rapid recovery is due to a general rebound in automotive sales, Fay says Toyota's current popularity represents "one of the best comebacks within the industry."

After steering Toyota's marketing through these crises, Toyota announced in July 2012 that it was moving Fay up to his current position.

Passenger side: Fay and his wife, Jeannie, live in Huntington Beach. He has two daughters and a son. Currently, his driveway at home hosts a Toyota Avalon, Venza, Tacoma and the new Corolla.

Bucket list: When asked which non-Toyota vehicle he would like to take for a spin, Fay didn't hesitate. "That new Corvette might be the first thing I'd go out and test drive," Fay said. "I'd like to see if I could get lost for a weekend in that."

david.undercoffler@latimes.com