Everyone knows hybrids are easier on the environment, but are they cool? Lexus is trying to build that association with Dark Ride, an interactive film offering consumers an action-packed virtual test drive of the company’s new CT 200h hybrid compact, which goes on sale in February 2011. Visitors to lexusdarkride.com act as co-stars to the film’s lead actor, guiding him through a series of adventures as enemies try to steal the prototype CT 200h he’s driving. The effort from Skinny, is part of Lexus’ The Darker Side of Green campaign, which supports the launch. Its edgy positioning is an effort to redefine hybrid offerings and offer a new entry point to a slightly younger Lexus consumer base. In an e-mail interview, Lexus’ vp, marketing David Nordstrom discussed the brand’s commitment to luxury hybrids and Lexus’ efforts to reassure consumers after recalls of certain models. Excerpts appear below:
Brandweek: Lexus sold 2,340 hybrids in April. How does that compare with the year-earlier month, and can you give us 2010 year-to-date numbers and 2009 comparisons? Are we seeing signs of recovery in luxury hybrid sales? Can you give us an outlook for the year?
David Nordstrom: There’s certainly an interest in luxury hybrid vehicles, and overall Lexus hybrid sales are 9,077, up nearly 80 percent over the same period last year. Most of that increase can be attributed to our new HS 250h, which is the world’s first luxury car available only as a hybrid. Lexus also has other hybrid models to choose from. We think people are discovering they can own a car that’s kinder to the Earth but doesn’t sacrifice luxury. For the year, we’ll sell at least double what we did last year.
BW: Lexus has been a pioneer in manufacturing luxury hybrids, and the CT 200h will be the brand’s fifth hybrid model. How important are hybrids to the future of the brand? Why is the CT 200h, with its lower entry point, a milestone vehicle for Lexus?
DN: Since Lexus introduced its first hybrid vehicle in 2005, our hybrids have logged more than 5 billion miles. Hybrid technology is important to Lexus because it demonstrates our commitment to innovation. The beauty of our hybrids is that they come in so many different forms: the RX hybrid sport utility vehicle, the top-of-the-line LS hybrid sedan, the performance-oriented GS hybrid and the new HS hybrid sedan. With the CT 200h, we’ll be introducing a whole new breed of hybrid that’s fun to drive. It’s a new side of Lexus, and as a marketer, it’s a great opportunity to do some exciting things like the LexusDarkRide.com interactive film.
BW: How many Lexus vehicle modifications have been made to date, and what has Lexus been doing to reassure consumers about the safety of the brand? Will safety play a greater role in future marketing communications from the company?
DN: At Lexus, “The Pursuit of Perfection” is not just a tagline; it’s what we do every single day. We apply the principle of kaizen, or continuous improvement, to everything we do. In regard to safety, our vehicles already have outstanding safety features, but we’ll be adding more, like a brake override system, in all our vehicles by the end of the year. In terms of marketing, we want to ensure that our customers know about our commitment to safety and understand our cars’ features and how they are designed to work.
BW: Last month Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A created SMART rapid response teams to respond to consumer safety concerns. Can you give us a sense of the early SMART response from Lexus consumers?
DN: To quickly and aggressively investigate customer reports of unintended acceleration in our vehicles in the United States, we established Swift Market Analysis Response Teams (SMART). These teams are comprised of highly trained and mobile members who attempt to contact customers within 24 hours to arrange for a comprehensive on-site vehicle analysis. This process helps us respond to customer concerns and better understand what is prompting these claims. No incidents of unintended acceleration caused by a fault in a vehicle’s electronic throttle control system have been found.