Prius Breaks New Ground

29 Jul 2004|Christoper Ireland

Last year, I posted on moving from my beloved blue JAG XK8 to the new Toyota Prius Hybrid. I’ve had the car now for about 9 months and just realized that Toyota has managed to do what nearly all brands dream of doing, but few accomplish. They have not only changed my behavior, but also my perceptions of the competition.

At this point, I can’t imagine ever buying a normal combustion engine car again. It would feel like returning to a typewriter after using a computer. I not only love the car itself, but I now see non-hybrid competitors as hopelessly out of date. I’m also not impressed with the hybrid competitors (primarily Honda), although I’m happy they’re around. How did Toyota accomplish this very difficult feat?

First and foremost, they introduced a truly innovative product that delivered a realistic operating experience. They didn’t expect too much behavioral change–I don’t have to plug in my car. Instead, they took the current platform (standard economy automobile) and they modernized parts of it to deliver high value benefits: very high fuel economy, improved visibility, easier operating, updated dashboard, state of the art GPS system and the fabulous smart entry system that refuses to let me lock my keys in the car.

Secondly, they used design very effectively. Initially, the sole reason I bought a Prius rather than a Honda was because it looked different. Some like its appearance, some don’t, but at least it’s unique. The internal design is intuitive, and someone who carries a purse and drives with kids was on the team.

Finally, they were masterful with their PR. While you can argue that celebrities are not experts, they are opinion leaders. When you have high profile celebrities using the car and touting its virtues, it adds an intangible cache that makes up for its meager econo car roots.

Notice advertising is not on this list. In my case, it’s had no impact because I’ve never seen a Prius ad. But all of what I’ve listed are component parts of the Prius brand experience. If they added effective advertising to the mix, the wait list would no doubt go from 6 months to 2 years.

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