Monday, June 30, 2008

Marketing the Prius

As I sat at a stoplight today in my gas-guzzling Mustang, I noticed that a Prius whirred up beside me. I say whirred because the Prius makes very little noise. It really is silent, especially inside. I had the privilege to ride in one a few months ago and it was actually quite nice. The interior is relatively spacious and the console looks like you’re piloting a shuttlecraft from Star Trek. All very futuristic.

What I like most is the in-dash computer that monitors your gas usage in real time and shows you an up to the second MPG. Studies done by Nissan in Japan have shown that having this appear in the dashboard actually causes drivers to moderate their driving to achieve a higher MPG score and that gas usage is reduced by up to 10%. I’ve even warmed to the Prius’s exterior, which although a bit wombat-ish has a sleek, unoffensive functional appeal that seems so ubiquitous in Asian cars.

I would never buy a Prius. I would definitely buy an electric Mustang, but never a Prius. Frankly it’s just not sexy or personable to me. But that’s ok.

My Sexy Beast:

The Prius:
The Prius is now Toyota’s fastest selling car and the wait times to buy one from an Ontario dealership can exceed three months. So it’s obvious that people want one. But why?

1. It’s fuel efficient. Ok, but what about the carbon impact of Toyota’s flexible production schedule to assemble and manufacture the car? It doesn’t matter if the car burns less gasoline if the car was assembled from parts shipped from all around the world. In particular, the nickel mined for the car’s electric battery comes from Sudbury, Ontario, a town devastated by the environmental consequences (acid rain, polluted groundwater, felled forests) of precious mineral mining. The nickel is shipped from Sudbury to Wales to China to Japan and then back to North America. Wow, so the car really is good for the Earth!

2. It’s cost-effective. recently introduced the Gas-Guzzler Trade-in Calculator and found that even with today’s astronomic gas prices, the Prius is not making up for its higher cost over less expensive conventional cars like the Chevy Aveo. The savings you make up for buying a Prius are realized after 12 years of driving one. Compare that to seven years for an Aveo. Mile for mile, it’s actually more expensive to drive the Prius – and you’re killing the environment.

3. It’s new. The Prius was targeted specifically for innovators and early adopters. Notice the apparent lack of mass advertising too (usually reserved for the larger waves of the product life cycle). Rather, Toyota’s advertising strategy relied on very targeted promotions and endorsements of the car by celebrities and environmental groups like the Sierra Club.

So against fuel-efficient competitors like the Honda Accord Hybrid or the Toyota Scion xB, the Prius represents a stroke of marketing genius. Forgetting about the electric motor, the Prius is a stunningly average car. But marketers captured what the car
represents. It represents progressiveness, idealism, and conscientiousness – all qualities sought by prospective Prius car buyers.

Marketing cars is not about marketing the car. It’s about marketing the image of
you in the car.

So if I want to feel cool in my sexy Mustang and someone else wants to feel smart in their fuel-efficient Prius, then are we not both being sold on the same value, just a different message?

(Read this good article from Edmunds about ‘Why we buy hybrids’. It explains the marketing perfectly)

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