Toyota on expansion track with NASCAR

Extended relationship with racing allows Toyota to interact with audience and build internal growth

Extended relationship with racing allows Toyota to interact with audience and build internal growth

In its quest to become the number one automaker on the planet, Toyota also has its sights set on ruling the full-size pickup segment with its all-new 2007 Tundra. But before it can accomplish either, it must establish a relationship with the drivers in America's heartland and the South, and it plans on doing so by expanding its relationship with one of their favorite sports: NASCAR.

"The biggest reason Toyota is getting into NASCAR is to sell trucks," Chad Harp, Toyota marketing communications spokesman, told PRWeek in February. "You go to any NASCAR event and look at the parking lot, and there's a healthy amount of trucks."

Toyota has been racing Tundras in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series since 2004, but this year, it will be racing Toyota Camrys in both the NASCAR Busch Series and Nextel Cup Series. At Daytona International Speedway last month, Les Unger, Toyota Motor Sales USA national motorsports manager, told PRWeek that internally it took a couple of years for everyone to get on the same page about expanding the relationship, "but in the end, it was unanimous."

"There's going to be more opportunities for Toyota to expose the brand because when you're at Cup races, the fan turnout is two to three to four times what it is on a given weekend when there's a truck race," Unger says.

Along with cars on the track, Art Garner, SVP and Toyota lead at GolinHarris, the company's AOR for the past five years, says Toyota will have a major presence in and around 68 races this year.

"Presence will vary from place to place," Garner says. "A lot of it will depend on the size of the track and the race."

Unger says the relationship gives Toyota a chance to interact with an enthusiastic truck audience and also to aid internal growth.

"Not only are we going to have product on the track, but it also gives us the opportunity to interact, and touch these fans with our mobile marketing and product displays," Unger says. "And over and above that, [we will] be able to do a lot of team building within the Toyota family."

Unger estimates there were more than 400 people with either a Toyota or Lexus affiliation at the Daytona Speedway last month.

He says Toyota's goal this year is to double the number of Tundras sold in the US last year to 200,000 "through PR, TV, and print advertising," Unger says, "but over and above that, looking at the NASCAR fan and giving those fans the chance to see the Tundra production models firsthand and touch them at these various venues."

The two primary vehicles Toyota will use at the tracks will be an interactive exhibit called Toyota Live! and the Tundra Prove It Tour. Diana DeJoseph, motorsports PR senior administrator at Toyota Motor Sales USA, says the mobile marketing displays drew "very strong attendance" at the Daytona 500.

The Tundra Prove It exhibit, which will make 300 other stops around the US this year, allowed Daytona 500 attendees to get behind the wheel of a Tundra and drive it over a mock construction site. They were also able to get behind the wheel of one of Tundra's main competitors and compare the power of the two through a mock drag race.

Toyota Live! had both driver and celebrity appearances, as well.

Unger says the exhibits are designed to introduce the NASCAR fan to the Tundra and the Toyota brand.

"We want to touch the NASCAR fan and make them feel good about the brand," Unger explains. "So when you look at these mobile marketing displays, it isn't just sell, sell, sell; Tundra, Tundra, Tundra; facts and figures about Tundra; and so forth. There are games, raffles, and opportunities for fans to win things and experience what it's like to be a member of a NASCAR crew, but... you'll have Tundra visibility throughout."

Garner says product isn't the only focus of the exhibits and that Toyota will work to discuss its made in America message.

"There's a personality component to this, and it helps spread awareness about what Toyota's operations are in the US," he says.

"We're certainly pleased that it's in the sport communicating its made in America message," says Andrew Giangola, director of business communications at NASCAR. "It's showing NASCAR fans that Toyota employs a lot of Americans and has made significant investments in manufacturing facilities and is a good member of the community. Its involvement shows corporations the opportunities available in the sport, [such as] building an image selling product."

At a glance

Toyota Motor North America

President of Toyota Motor North America:
Jim Press

Chairman and CEO Toyota Motor Sales USA and Toyota Motor North America:
Yukitoshi Funo

Torrance, CA

Revenues and Latest Earnings:
Globally in 2006: approx. $179.1 billion in revenue and $11.68 billion in net income

Ford, DaimlerChrysler, General Motors, Honda, and Nissan

PR/Marketing Budget:

Key Trade Titles:
Automotive News, Ward's Auto Reports

Marcomms Team:
Jim Farley, group VP of marketing
Irv Miller, group VP of corporate comms
Les Unger, national motorsports manager

Marketing Services Agencies:
PR: GolinHarris, Michael Dobrin Public Relations, Walker Agency, and Hopkins PR
Ad: Saatchi & Saatchi LA

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