Published on March 8th, 2007 | by Jeff McIntire-Strasburg0
From the Showroom to the Fairground: Toyota’s “Highway to the Future”
Automobile marketing is pretty standard stuff, right? Newspaper ads, billboards, and the big, flashy exhibits at the auto shows — that about covers it. If you want to find out more, you go to a website or the dealership — right?
Toyota’s attempting to turn some of those conventions on there heads with the (literal) roll-out of its Highway to the Future: the Mobile Hybrid Experience tour. Begun in January at the San Jose International Auto Show, the tour consists of two rolling museums: 53-foot trailers that contain high-tech exhibits meant to bring hybrid technology to the masses. The feature exhibits of the Experience include:
- “Alternative Fuels: Fueling the Future” identifies the differences in various types of alternative fuels and how they are produced.
- “Environment and Resources: Small Steps, Big Difference” shows attendees what they can do to make a difference to the environment.
- “The Prius Driving Experience” simulates the current Hybrid Synergy Drive technology, allowing visitors to interact with the system while on-screen instructions offer driving tips.
- “Hybrid Technology: Not All Hybrids are Created Equal” gives visitors a better understanding of the various hybrid technology options on the market and how hybrids benefit the consumer and the environment.
Where’s the tour going? Auto shows, of course, but also to fairs, film festivals, and environmental gatherings — it’s also just making stops in various locations. All together, the Experience will make 150 different stops.
Is this marketing? Certainly. But it’s definitely a unique form of marketing for a car company. First, and most obvious, there’s a genuine educational effort here. Second, Toyota’s not only bringing its hybrid line-up to potential customers, but also using the tour to literally move into weaker markets: as LA’s Daily Breeze notes (sorry — looks like the actual article is unavailable on the site), Toyota pretty much owns the hybrid market in the US. The bulk of those sales, though, occur on the coasts. By taking the Prius, Camry and Highlander on the road, and into flyover country, the company can get people behind the wheel (or, at least, playing with an exhibit) and introduce them to these vehicles in a fun, non-threatening manner.
Of course, the big question someone’s bound to ask: what’s the environmental impact of taking these trailers trucks on the road for 18 months? Probably sizable, but Toyota has attempted to offset that impact in several ways. First, they’ve partnered with the National Arbor Day Foundation, and will be planting over 50,000 trees in honor of Experience visitors — that should offset some of the carbon emissions. They’ve also partnered with 3form in building the Experience: ceiling tiles, wall coverings and flooring are all made from recycled and/or eco-friendly materials. This could ultimately be a moot point: if the Tour gets more people driving hybrids, that in itself could offset this effort’s carbon footprint in fairly short order. A definite “win-win…”
The Experience hasn’t made it to St. Louis yet, but the folks at Toyota have promised to keep me in the loop. Has anyone been? What did you think?