Ahh, the benefits of free PR. Mere minutes after Toyota UK’s official blog posted their “interview” with GT 86 chief engineer Tetsuya Tada, the outlets of the autoblogosphere were alight with Tada’s comments praising shooting brakes.
See, dropping a choice quote about Tada’s desire for a GT86 shooting brake isn’t just a coldly calculated way to ensure that this interview is re-posted ad infintium on every content aggregator and “enthusiast blog” (read: free PR machine for the OEMs) in the world. It also provides a bit of insight into the economics of vehicle development, sales and manufacturing today – not to mention the PR and marketing side.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to how it all works. Toyota’s in-house communication channel gets an “exclusive” interview with Tada-san, which is even more tightly controlled than it would be with a third party blog. Everything here is being tailored to get the exact message out that Toyota wants.
But it can’t be too dry and fawning, or else the rest of the blogosphere wouldn’t seize on the original work, alter it slightly and then publish it under their own name. So a few nuggets must be dropped in to appeal to the auto blogger army, who tend to be automotive uber-nerds of the highest order. So we get the following quote
“Mass producing a sports car for a company like Toyota carries a big business risk and we’ve tried to mitigate that risk with our collaboration with Subaru. We say, ‘mitigate’ in one [easy] word, but we had to make some really tough decisions for us to realise this. Also, along the way, we investigated the possibility of a sedan [saloon] and a shooting brake.”
At this point, a million articles entitled “SCION FR-S SEDAN AND SHOOTING BRAKE HINTED AT BY TOYOTA”, and that’s that. The real juice is of course, further down the article, but over the heads of anyone without real understanding of the auto industry.
“It’s just my personal dream that the GT86 could become a family like what BMW has done with the Mini family. I hope that happens.”
Whereas the car nerds see a savior-like product that can redeem the homogeneous soulless and terminally boring auto industry, Toyota sees a costly niche vehicle with little opportunity to take advantage of scale. Car development is a multi-billion dollar exercise. If a giant like Toyota needed to partner with Subaru to mitigate some of the financial risk, you can imagine what an undertaking the 86 program must have been.
Luckily, there’s a way around this problem, as BMW has demonstrated with Mini; make a million variants of the base car, with each one carrying a slight differentiation and a substantial price premium to allow for greater margin. While most Mini variants look like a cynical exercise in foisting high margin crap on self-concious yuppies, a range of FT-86 derived products would be pretty cool. Who in their right mind wouldn’t want a lineup of affordable, rear-drive vehicles that met their practical as well as emotional needs? The complexities of vehicle design also dictate that variants like a convertible had to be thought of in advance during the 86’s engineering.
There’s a good chance that these future variants, like a shooting brake and a sedan, were also envisioned, and likely not forgotten. Auto makers do not just turn on a dime and decide to produce a full lineup just because one niche sports car has done well – the timeline of vehicle development is simply too long and too planned in advance for these things to happen. Everything in this business comes down to money. If it don’t make dollars, it don’t make sense. Never forget that. In fact, it’s quite liberating. And sometimes, it even leads to desirable outcomes like this.