DETROIT (Reuters) - Toyota Motor Co. Ltd. 7203.T has launched two new models of its Scion brand -- in two lives at the same time.
Toyota launched a redesigned Scion xB and a new model called the xD in Second Life -- an online community with 1.2 million “residents” -- and at the Chicago Auto Show on Thursday, holding simultaneous press conferences in both the real and virtual worlds.
Second Life, run by Linden Labs, is an electronic universe where people’s virtual representations, called avatars, can fly, teleport, chat and buy products and services.
Second Life users can log into kiosks in ‘Scion City’ and buy a Scion for 300 Linden dollars, or 1 U.S. dollar. They can then customize it with real-world and fantasy accessories.
“We developed Scion City to connect with the trendsetters,” Adrian Si, Scion’s interactive marketing manager, said. “That’s our target demographic -- people who do things first. Trendsetters are instrumental in promoting brands.”
This is not Toyota’s first tryst with online communities. Last year, the automaker also launched Scions in Whyville -- a virtual world created for tweens, mostly aged 8 to 15.
“These aren’t direct money-making ventures for us,” Si said. “But of course, if we can make a positive influence on the tween citizens of Whyville and they think of us when they get to a driving age, we would consider that a success.”
Once purchased, a virtual Scion owner can cruise around Whyville, picking up friends for a ride. Since the launch in May 2006, Whyville users have gone on close to one million rides in their Scions.
In Second Life, Scion is looking to sell the empty space and buildings in Scion City to young entrepreneurs. “We also plan to have cultural events, like music concerts and movie screenings, as we grow in the community,” Si said.
ABOUT AWARENESS, NOT VOLUME
The Japanese automaker, expected to challenge General Motors Corp. GM.N for the top spot in global sales this year, sold about 173,000 Scions in 2006, up about 11 percent from a year earlier. Toyota launched the brand in 2003.
The option to customize your car and the offerings of an audio system that plays MP3 CDs and allows iPod connectivity as standard equipment has helped make the vehicles popular, especially to a tech-savvy demographic.
“I feel the xD will sell much more than the xA did. If we sold 2,000 xA units per month, I think we’d sell 4,500 xD units,” said Steve Haag, Scion corporate manager.
The xD’s optional audio system will have the ability to download images, video clips and eight-second movies from Pioneer’s Web site. Owners will be able to burn their own images and movies and upload them onto the available head unit.
Haag said he does not expect Scion sales to rise in 2007 because the brand ended production of the xA and the older xB in December. “We’ll sell less Scions in the first and second quarters because of a production gap.”
“So we will lose some volume in 2007 but we should be back up in 2008,” he said.
But Toyota Motor North America president Jim Press last year said he is not worried about Scion sales, calling the brand the automaker’s “incubator.”
Haag said, “What he said is true. We want to capture customers who would not have considered the Toyota brand. We don’t want to necessarily sell them Scions. We want them to get to know our brand, and hopefully consider something in the Toyota family because they like who we are.”
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