Toyota Launching Tundra Like a Brand

The recent press drive forToyota’s second-generation Tundra in Charlotte, N.C., was a different species of automotive press event in at least one respect. You don’t usually get reporters from farming, towing, construction, aftermarket trades, and hunting and fishing, RV, and motorcycle magazines all at the same ride and drive.


When I asked a reporter from a farming trade publication if she’d ever been to a short-lead event (as those in the industry call preview drives) before, the answer I got was something like “Yes, for tractors.”


The diversity of reporter beats says a lot about Toyota ’s strategy for the February campaign, the largest in its 45 or so years in the U.S. : get those whom Toyota calls “true truckers” — people who use their pickups on the job — to buy the new Tundra, and the general market will follow.


“People in construction, farming, mining, will help give us credibility,” said Michael O’Brien, product planning manager, who added that, among other things, the commercial sales fleet has been charged with finding high-visibility operations, such as road construction and maintenance companies to sign up for fleet purchases of the truck.


Ernest Bastien, VP vehicle operations group, said Toyota is treating the launch of its Tundra full-size pickup as if it were launching an entirely new division, including reorganizing its marketing and product development teams: “We have co-located planning, advertising, PR, event planning, distribution, accounting, and the company’s University of Toyota.”


Toyota also opened its CAD files to SEMA member aftermarket companies five months before launch, created a two-part dealer training program, and launched a dealership design upgrade program.


Aside from a presence at NASCAR races timed with Toyota’s entry next year into the Busch and Nextel cup car lineup, with the Camry, Toyota will launch a road show/ride. Reminiscent of Dodge’s 2002 “Truckville” tour, Toyota ’s “Prove It Tour” will hit some 650 events in over 300 markets, according to Bastien, including NASCAR events, and the Daytona 500.


Toyota is also making dealers central to the effort, not relegating them to the bottom of the purchase funnel. “We used the Scion divisional launch,” he said, as a template for regional and dealer programs.


That includes a dealership upgrade program called Image USA II, which gives dealers access to loans to make showrooms and service bays truck accessible.


As with Scion, Toyota is doing a dealer sales-force training program above and beyond the usual vehicle pre-launch sales training road show: The company is running a four-day product and marketing immersion for so-called “Truck Champions” — meaning sales people within individual dealerships chosen to oversee sales and local grass roots marketing for Tundra.


“The only dealer training immersion we have done that even comes close to that was for the Prius launch,” said Bastien, who added that Toyota ’s dealership training road show in January is also much larger than before. “We will train some 24,000 salespeople,” he said. “For the Camry launch we trained 18,000.”


Dealers will also get a raft of in-store displays, such as a toolbox concept in which drawers are filled with Tundra anatomical arcana like transaxle ring gears, and disc brake components.


O’Brien said the company also tapped former GM marketer Kurt Ritter, now a consultant for Toyota , to help define the Tundra target buyer through a segmentation study. And, as the company did when it was designing the new Sienna minivan, it hit the road, stopping at construction sites, lumber yards, etc., nationwide to gauge truckers’ interest and preferences.


“What we heard, basically, was ‘I love my truck, why would I want to buy yours?” said O’Brien. “We came back with ‘what would it take to make you buy ours?’”


O’Brien, conceding that the domestics have maintained dominance, in part, by offering so many variations in size, capability, engine size, accessories, and interior options. He said Toyota settled on about 31 variations, based on regular cab, double cab, and crew max.


“It’s about half the number of GM and Ford’s full-sized pickups,” said O’Brien, who argued that, while fewer options means not all buyers will get precisely the combinations what they want, it’s far more likely they’ll get the truck they choose when they want it.


“When a customer goes in to a dealership, they want to be able to buy, right then, the vehicle they have in mind. They don’t want to wait months.”


Toyota is mum about a super-duty version of the new truck.


He said many of the people he and the Toyota team met on its U.S. fact-finding tour still thought of Toyota as a maker of the smaller T-100 platform pickups and Tacoma mid-size truck. He recalled a stop the team made at a large construction site in San Antonio .


“We showed up there, and announced we’d buy free lunch for all the foremen who’d come sit down with us and talk about their trucks,” said O’Brien. “When we showed up with Subway sandwiches, chips, and drinks, there was a line of pickups.”


He said 20 truck owners packed a foreman’s doublewide.


“There was one poor guy there with a Tacoma ; everyone picked on him,” said O’Brien. But Toyota will have to work to convince consumers that the new Tundra isn’t a slightly larger mid-size pickup, as well. Said O’Brien, “We heard things like, ‘I used to own one of those little trucks. I grew up, but your truck didn’t.”


Toyota, which has 200,000 units of capacity in its new plant in San Antonio, Texas, and 100,000 in Princeton, Ind., plans to sell around 200,000 of the vehicles next year. Toyota sold around 126,500 Tundras last year, and 112,040 through November, 2006.--Karl Greenberg


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