By on September 17, 2009

Branded! (courtesy:greenlimoservice.com.au)

A brand is a promise to the consumer. It’s the umbrella under which all products must shelter. All the people responsible for a brand must ensure that it meets that promise. The Toyota Prius is a promise of reliable transportation that achieve high-mileage with low emissions. So it’s no wonder that Toyota has decided to stretch the brand to other vehicles. Oh, wait, the Prius isn’t a brand. It’s a model within a brand, which contains other examples of reliable transportation that achieves high-mileage with low emissions. Is that confusing? Well if it isn’t now, it soon will be. “The Highlander hybrid and Camry hybrid do OK, but calling it ‘Synergy Drive’ never resonated with consumers,” veteran Toyota dealer Earl Stewart told Automotive News [sub]. “But they can make hay on the Prius name. It’s a magic name. If somebody says ‘I drive a Prius,’ everybody knows what he means.” But for how long? The truth about a brand is that its products must fulfill the brand’s promise, or the brand dies. Confusing that brand diminishes it and alienates the people who gave birth to it in the first place. Maybe not straight away, but eventually. And forever.

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28 Comments on “Toyota to Stretch Prius Brand...”


  • avatar

    Hmmm… talk about something that’s ripe for the “Between the Lines” treatment…

  • avatar
    Daniel J. Stern

    The truth about a brand is that its products must fulfill the brand’s promise, or the brand dies. Confusing that brand diminishes it and alienates the people who gave birth to it in the first place. Maybe not straight away, but eventually. And forever.

    Pravda. Amen. >>clink!<< *gulp*

  • avatar
    tedward

    meh, they could do a Prius “classic” along the lines of Coca-cola to sell the original hatch down the line. Really what’s to lose calling a Camry a Camry-Prius?

    If they could be bothered to put the drivetrain into a car that can actually handle (and call it a Prius of some sort) they might even steal a few segment-specific buyers from other manufacturers. I’ve seen enough Prius owners on this very sight trying to preserve their testes’ honor by claiming simultaneous ownership of Z’s and MX-5′s to know that there’s overlap in the demographics. There simply has to be, the Prius is a relatively expensive car once a few options are selected. Milk it.

  • avatar
    tedward

    PS

    I do agree with your branding advice in general, but in the Prius’ case I think the danger would only be in a very low milage version (say…full sized truck that even with a hybrid gets high teens low 20′s). Anything short of that I feel is fairly safe.

  • avatar
    CyCarConsulting

    OK so just call all the Hybrids,

    Prius
    Synergy
    Drive

    Don’t even have to change the badge that much

  • avatar

    It will work if they make all the derivatives look like a Prius and get comparable mileage. Years ago, every car line had 2-door, 4-door, hardtop, sedan, wagon and convertible versions of every car. There’s nothing wrong with a Prius station wagon or a Prius convertible as long as they look like they’re based on them same car and have the same underlying architecture/drivetrain.

  • avatar
    Ken Elias

    And we’re still waiting for the Volt as TM goes all out to further establish itself as the leader in hybrid technology. This is actually a good idea by Toyota…as long as it meets the brand promise like RF says.

  • avatar
    ajla

    The Oldsmobile Cutlass, Cutlass Supreme, Cutlass Cruiser, Cutlass Calais, and Cutlass Ciera all think this is a great idea.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Part of what the name “Prius” for conjures up for me is not just high mileage – it’s space age design with lots of high-tech features that you can’t get on regular cars. I think that’s why the hybrid Camrys and Highlanders aren’t big sellers – they aren’t special, and the Prius is.

    So, building on what Frank said…I’d actually make the Prius name a sub-brand, like Scion, and market leading-edge hybrids with it. All would be based on more mundane Toyota platforms, but offer unique, futuristic style and features you can’t get on regular Toyotas.

    Entry: Yaris-based super-mileaqe vehicle
    Mid-level: current Prius
    Large car: rebodied Camry
    SUV: RAV4 (the hybrid Highlander is God-awful expensive)

    As electric cars become more feasible, they could start marketing them under this brand as well.

    Not the easiest path to follow, but this is Toyota we’re talking about…their rep as a maker of hybrids is golden. Why not capitalize?

  • avatar
    marc

    @ajla

    Don’t forget the Euro inspired(?) Cutlass Salon. I had a ’75. Actually quite liked it.

  • avatar
    BDB

    Aijla, FTW. I thought the exact same thing when I read this.

    Toyota really IS the new GM, huh?

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Hey, don’t diss Cutlasses. GM had that thang working for the better part of 20 years. If those late ’80s Cutlasses and the ’90s Cieras hadn’t been crap, they’d still have it working.

  • avatar
    James2

    Hey, don’t diss Cutlasses. GM had that thang working for the better part of 20 years. If those late ’80s Cutlasses and the ’90s Cieras hadn’t been crap, they’d still have it working.

    I don’t think ajla was dissing the cars as much as he was –rightly– dissing the proliferation of the Cutlass name.

  • avatar
    ajla

    Toyota really IS the new GM, huh?

    This really does sound like GM thinking.

    “Our stupid customers don’t love our hybrid crossover and sedan because we gave its propulsion system a dull name. These lemmings want something that they can brag to people about. Hey, we’ve got the Prius, and it’s a ‘magic’ nameplate that resonates with everyone. Obviously the answer is to slap Prius badges on all our hybrids.”

    Also, certain Cutlasses are fine as long as they aren’t sitting next to a Grand Prix. What GM did to that nameplate by sticking “Cutlass” on everything was stupid though.

  • avatar

    +1 for the Cutlass Salons, that’s a good example of a logical and worthwhile brand extension. You know, if GM (as per usual) actually stuck with it.

  • avatar
    stuki

    I hope for their sake they don’t just slap the Prius name on their other more ill conceived hybrids. A 7 seater hybrid with the same same shape / attention to aero as the current Prius would warrant the name, though. Exactly what uses a hybrid Camry fulfills that the current Prius does not, I have never really understood.

  • avatar
    Andy D

    If it resonates, run with it. In a market where perception is everything, Toyota and a Prius have a positive image. Run with it, sheesh , its a no-brainer.

  • avatar
    Autosavant

    The 2nd Gen Prius was an amazing tech feat, but had very little rear head room for a 6 footer, and none for anybody taller than that.

    I thought back then that if they offered a prius Wagon the problem would be solved.

    The even better Prius III not only looks much better, but also solved the headroom problem by raising the roofline. So a Wagon is less urgent now.

    A coupe would probably sell well. A convertible, less so, and it would screw the MPG with its even grreatewr weight and esp. much worse aerodyns with the top down (and even with a cloth top up, which defeats its purpose, of course)

  • avatar
    Autosavant

    If instead Prius goes Corossover and/or AWD, it will screw its outstanding MPG (10 MPG higher than any competition!) considerably. Plus dilute its image.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Autosavant :
    September 18th, 2009 at 9:05 am

    If instead Prius goes Corossover and/or AWD, it will screw its outstanding MPG (10 MPG higher than any competition!) considerably. Plus dilute its image.

    I think that depends on the image. If they just slap a hybrid powertrain into a crossover and call it a “Prius,” then, yes, I think you’re right.

    But what about a RAV4-based crossover with unique, space age styling and all kinds of high-tech goodies, in the Prius idiom? It wouldn’t get the same mileage as the current sedan, granted, but it’d get sensational mileage for a small crossover SUV. Ditto for a midsize “Prius” sedan.

    Now, that I think you could sell THAT as a Prius.

  • avatar
    Autosavant

    Mike,

    Currently the Prius is, by a margin of 10 MPG over all other hybrids, the only serious hybrid, if you exclude the old science project 2-seater Honda Insight which could get 65 (and 70 w/o A/C).

    When they start adding significant weight if they go crossover and AWD, or really screwing up the aerodynamics if they go soft top convertible, it just will not be as super if it only gets 35 and 40 MPG. Everybody and his mother-in-law can get 35 and 40 MPG, and even w/o any help from a hybrid system!

  • avatar
    carguy

    Not every iconic model should and could be turned into a stand-alone or sub-brand. Maybe TM should do more to market this as a technology but it wouldn’t make sense as a brand. While getting 50+ MPGs has economic benefits the true value of hybrids is that is that is makes their owners feel good about owning the car (just like sporty noises and speed make sports car fans happy). And that is what TM is selling – good feeling about your purchase. So why shouldn’t they extend that benefit to their other heavier models to magically remove the stigma of owning a larger vehicle?

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    @Autosavant:

    35 or 40 mpg WOULD be exceptional mileage for a small crossover SUV. It’s all relative.

    If high-mileage vehicles like hybrids have a future, it’ll be based on extending the technology to many different car categories.

    Besides, I’m sure there are many Prius drivers who may need to move up in size as their family grows, or might want a car with AWD.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    carguy :
    September 18th, 2009 at 10:54 am

    While getting 50+ MPGs has economic benefits the true value of hybrids is that is that is makes their owners feel good about owning the car (just like sporty noises and speed make sports car fans happy).

    And I’d argue that part of what makes Prius owners feel good about their cars is the fact that it’s a “special” design not shared with anything else in the Toyota lineup. The fact is that any car can be “hybridized,” but only the Prius has been able to translate that into large-scale sales, and its design is a big part of that.

  • avatar
    Autosavant

    I agree with most of the points of the last two posts:

    “And I’d argue that part of what makes Prius owners feel good about their cars is the fact that it’s a “special” design not shared with anything else in the Toyota lineup.”

    This is very important. The civic Hybrid and all other hybrids that are lookalikes with their non-hybrid siblings did not do very well.

    “The fact is that any car can be “hybridized,” but only the Prius has been able to translate that into large-scale sales, and its design is a big part of that.”

    I believe in the case of the Prius II and III, Toyota went the extra mile (or thousand miles) and perfected an almost optimal design, with very careful aerodynamics etc, so it gets 10 MPG above all other hybrid sedans, and 20 MPG over the Escape small Crossover Hybrid, which gets 30 overall (33 at best, at low speeds in the city, and 27-30 highway)

    I agree that a RAV4 with 40, or even 35, MPG would be impressive, but I doubt that the RAV4 can do that well unless it it drastically redesigned. After all, the RAV4 is EScape-sized and weight.

  • avatar
    Autosavant

    I am not impressed with crossovers, few people need them, or need AWD-4WD. All most people need are small wagons, with a lot of interior space, and the Prius could be stretched to be a 6-7 passenger wagon (the last 2 seats for kids mostly), probably with only a minor weight penalty (200-300 lbs) over the base PRius, and only about 5 MPG less (still a most impressive 45). But if Toyota goes crossover with a RAV4 hybrid, it will not be able to do more than 35 MPG.

  • avatar
    stuki

    Autosavant,

    My thoughts exactly. Some people/families eventually outgrow a Prius, but might not need anything as gargantuan as a Sienna. A somewhat enlarged Prius, with the all important 3rd row, ought to fit those needs fairly well, while still delivering outstanding mileage and green styling.

  • avatar
    Thinx

    It could work if they extended the Prius brand selectively to include a small minivan (think Mazda 5), a light sports car (Celica), a convertible (MR2) and maybe even a coupe (CRX). They could go the ‘halo’ route and build a limited edition Tesla like car too.

    The important thing is to preserve the things that make a Prius a Prius – >10 mpg advantage over nearest non-hybrid alternative, minimal evidence of parts-bin design with vanilla Toyota models, refinement and reliability.


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