Toyota Solicits Testimonials From Hybrid Owners

By: Mark Clarkson

Toyota Motor Corp. is soliciting written and video testimonials from 10,000 hybrid owners. Though hybrid owners only represent less than 2 percent of the overall automobile sales market, Toyota is passionate about them. The automaker believes that customer testimonials can draw more customers.

One of the customers who have given Toyota hybrid testimonial is Craig, a Los Angeles-based Prius owner. Along with other hybrid owners who have given their testimonials, Craig is now on toyota.com/hybrids site. Other customer testimonials will make their way into broadcast spots.

Peter Kang, creative director of emerging technology at Saatchi & Saatchi, Los Angeles, Toyota's primary agency, said he is now editing such footage for future ad campaigns. "These spots will be literally the same content as on the site, only in a different format. It's easy to find people who are passionate for their hybrids, and these people will list their reasons for owning or being interested in hybrid technology. These people will be part of 15-second spots and they give very honest answers about what life is about and how this car is important to them," Kang said.

Auto analysts are warning the automaker about the consequences of the move. Chevrolet had ventured in similar effort with its Tahoe unfortunately; it stumbled on the way. "It makes the people nervous to allow the consumer to get into this, but we monitor and filter the blogs," said Gregg Benkendorfer, Toyota's national manager of interactive marketing. "We don't edit, but we filter; the last thing we need is a video by some guy with his girlfriend draped across a Prius."

Toyota is the finest when it comes to hybrid car manufacture. To maintain this standing, the automaker intends to unveil a hybrid-only model in 2009. Asahi Shumbun, a Japanese newspaper, earlier reported that the model will be a midsize sedan with a 2.5- to 3-liter-engine, larger than that of the 1.5-liter Prius hatchback. The latter is Toyota's first hybrid car. It is known for its cutting-edge Toyota parts for Prius. The model will be offered to the American hybrid market that prefers bigger auto engines.

Asahi Shumbun also reported that Toyota will also be considering other hybrid-only models like the minivan and the station wagon. In this regard, the automaker is developing a new hybrid system that is more affordable. It will be installed on Prius and other hybrid sedans.

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