Toyota – the archetypal family car? Not any more. As reported (MW July 12), Toyota is to jump on the Formula One merry-go-round next season in an effort to make the brand more appealing to younger (and young at heart) buyers. But will this work?
I don’t believe Formula One in itself will be enough, and it will very much fall to the marketing and product development departments to ensure an impact. A few years ago, for example, Subaru was a relatively obscure marque. However, repeated success in world rallying and the launch of an extremely fast production car have made Subaru a well-known and desirable brand. Skoda is another brand which has used motorsport successfully in its reinvention.
There is a common thread here. Neither brand was previously in the mainstream – Subaru was a less well-known brand seeking recognition and Skoda was a much-maligned brand seeking respect. But both have combined motorsport with product development and marketing to good effect.
However, Pragma’s work for companies such as Hyundai and Lexus has shown that the impact of motorsport success is smaller for a mainstream, well-known brand. Ford is strong in rallying and Formula One, yet this is rarely mentioned by car buyers. Toyota will have to build a reputation over several years and get some race victories under its belt.
So it will come down to marketing and product development. Customers will need to see that the technological advances made in Formula One are making their way into road cars. Toyota will need to produce a sought after but attainable model like the Subaru Impreza. If Toyota is not bold enough, or gets it wrong, then brand perceptions are unlikely to change significantly.