Toyota is KING

There has been a new king of the auto industry crowned today, as Toyota has passed GM in sales of cars and trucks, not just in the US, but world wide. (See the story here) Spearheaded by the car-of-the-people Camry, Toyota has been inching ever close to GM’s coveted spot as the global leader in automobiles, finally passing them in 2007’s Q1 report.

I think pretty much everyone saw this coming. With GM producing lackluster car after car, designing what looked more like people transportation utensils than autos with a soul, Toyota took the “slow and steady wins the race” approach, coming out with not great, but pleasing designs, with superior quality at a great value time after time. It is only recently that GM has managed to inch back onto its wobbly two feet, importing cars from their European brands to do so.

With some of the largest branding and ad budgets of any company, the auto industry knows the importance of marketing’s impact on the bottom line. Here, we’ll take a look at a few of the brands and ads from GM and Toyota, and hopefully, figure out, at least in part, what went wrong.

Tundra vs. Silverado Winner: Tundra

The launch of Toyota’s updated Tundra line of trucks has more people than just David Ortiz smiling. Sure, any truck can drive through the mud at a construction site in their ads, but how about driving on a steel bridge right off a cliff only to brake before falling to a watery death? Or up the largest see-saw known to man? You won’t see a Silverado do that any day of the week.

Prius vs. Greenline/FlexFuel – Winner: Prius

The biggest fashion statement of the 21st century, the celebrity-driven Toyota Prius, sets the standard for eco-conscious driving in the US. The powerhouse vehicle has dominated the hybrid market for years, and has seen little competition from GM in this arena. Though Saturn has their “GreenLine” brand of hybrids, their performance doesn’t necessarily justify price, and to be honest, I don’t think anyone really knows about them, GM hasn’t put much money on their success as far as marketing goes. But who can blame them; it’s hard to compete with a car owned by Larry David.

FlexFuel, a new engine that runs on Ethanol as well as gas, is a great concept, but GM may have jumped the gun a bit on this one, as Ethanol is still nearly IMPOSSIBLE to find…time will tell, but I think they may be on to something here.

Lexus vs. Cadillac – Winner: Lexus

Both Lexus and Cadillac still have some work to do in the luxury segment. Aside from the Escalade, which seems to be popular among rappers and the country club set alike, Cadillac’s cars are not selling as great as they were right out of the gate, and the brand still lacks a “halo” vehicle or flagship luxury sedan.

Lexus, on the other hand, has taken huge strides in their latest round of product refreshes. The quality and technology are top notch, but many balked at the $100k price of a new LS (until they found out it could park itself). The company also offers hybrid models, giving the eco-wealthy a luxurious way to drive green.

Scion vs. ???? – Winner: Scion

Scion, Toyota’s decidedly young, hip, urban brand created on the cheap by the importing small, funky looking cars originally intended for Japan only has made a big impact despite only selling 3 different models. The brand has hit the mark as young people are actually buying it. The median age of a Scion driver is 39, the lowest in the industry. While Scion may still just be getting its legs in the auto industry, it is a perfect example of how important it is to “get ‘em while they’re young”. With the Scion brand sitting below Toyota and Lexus in the chain, there is a huge opportunity for them to build lasting relationships with customers, the axis of customer and brand.

GM is struggling to conjure up a vehicle or brand that resonates with young buyers. The company has small, affordable options, yes, but giving a car like the Aveo a tag line like “The Mighty Mouse of Cars” will not get you many 20 something males lining up to buy a re-badged Daewoo.

The company suffers from a crowded offering of brands, positioned too linearly. Pontiac, Saturn, Chevy and Buick all offer cars at relatively similar price points, and none of these namesakes seem to have enough prestige attached to position one above the other. Saturn’s upcoming Ion replacement, the Astra, seems like the company’s first great shot at a car for young people, and I really hope it succeeds.

Tiger Woods vs. Eddie Murphy – Winner: Eddie Murphy

Tiger Woods is an amazing athlete, and a symbol of excellence and precision, but did you watch that Eddie Murphy ad? 30 seconds of pure genius!

Toyota’s new title is well deserved, and, more importantly, a wake up call for American auto makers. While sales have been lagging for a while now, this could be considered their first real nail in the coffin.

Looking out my window right now there are 2 Toyotas, 2 Lexuses (Lexi?) and a Saab (a GM product). Proof God wanted me to write this? Yes. But also a pretty good indicator of at least the Northeast’s Toyota consumption, the highest selling region in the country for the company, and apparently, the world feels the same.

It’s time for Detroit to start giving the people what they want – better cars, better fuel economy, and if there’s a few bucks left over, hire Eddie Murphy.

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