Toyotas Tests Ways To Exterminate The Blandmobile

Bertel Schmitt
by Bertel Schmitt
toyotas tests ways to exterminate the blandmobile

Where would market research companies be without their sugar daddies, the car companies? There is no consumer product that is more expensive than a car, and nowhere is the amount of research money spent by unit sale higher than in the car industry. Research for a new car can be as crude as a few pictures and a questionnaire, or it can be something that is appropriately called a “clinic study,” with customers as lab rats.

All these methods have a flaw: The human factor. Data collected must be aggregated and analyzed by someone. He or she can twist the data however they like. That led to a famous quote by a long deceased former sales director at Volkswagen, who said: “I only believe in research I forged myself.”

Something had to be done, and Toyota is doing it. According to The Nikkei [sub], Toyota “is taking a new tack in car development: listening directly to potential customers rather than relying on market trend data, a move prompted by changing customer preferences.”

What they do is give customers test drives. While they drive, someone in the other seat chats with the driver. That someone in the other seat is an employee of Toyota Marketing Japan Co., a newly established subsidiary and the brainchild of Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda. No more sugar daddy. Toyota keeps the sugar in-house.

The car is outfitted with small microphones that pick up casual comments from visitors when they get inside the vehicles. No questionnaires, no clinical environment, no interpretation. Executives get reactions straight from the customer’s mouth.

Says the Nikkei: “This is part of an effort to break the reputation Toyota cars have as lacking excitement. The company is seeking to create “surprise elements” in its new models.”

So maybe, by way of the built-in microphones, we’ll get something else than the blandmobiles that made Toyota infamous and successful. Whether that’s a good or a bad thing remains to be seen.

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6 of 41 comments
  • Lucianrosca Lucianrosca on Jun 17, 2010

    I'm reading a book by Susan Scott and I can use a quote from there to describe what the results of these focus groups or clinics really are:"The Complete Guide to the Fricking Obvious". To many it's still a question why companies still spend large amounts of money now, in 2010, on these ineffective methods. The internet, with all the forums available 24/7 for free, is a huge resource of consumer comments, existing customers, potential customers, brand and model related of independent (like TTAC). The internet made the clinics completely irrelevant but companies still use them for a different reason. If a model is not successful in a way or another (like low sales) the clinic report is used as an excuse. The xB case, mentioned by JuniorMint, is the perfect example. If engineering is a precise science, design is very subjective and designers have to have a good gut feel. But that's not all, designers create the design but they don't approve it, it's the top management approving it. They also have to have a good gut feel.

    • See 2 previous
    • JeremyR JeremyR on Jun 18, 2010

      Greg: great quote! And God forbid the engineers should ever make a mistake, lest they incur the wrath of Congress...

  • SCE to AUX SCE to AUX on Jun 17, 2010

    Toyota should just talk to people who buy Hyundais.

  • Kwik_Shift There are no new Renegades for sale within my geographic circle of up to 85 kms. Looks like the artificial shortage game. They bring one in, 10 buyers line up for it, $10,000 over MSRP. Yeah. Like with a lot of new cars.
  • Ribbedroof In Oklahoma, no less!
  • Ribbedroof Have one in the shop for minor front collision repairs right now,I've seen more of these in the comments than in the 30 years I've been in collision repair.
  • Tassos And all 3 were ordered by Fisker's mother. Seriously, given Fisker's terrible record of Failure in the past, only an utter loser, (for example, VGhost or Art Vandelay?), looking for a BEV terrible enough to be a proper replacement of his 11 mile range Fiat 500E, would order one of these. (apart from Fisker's mother)
  • Tassos And all 3 of them were ordered by Fisker's mother.Seriously, after Fisker's DISMAL record of UTTER FAILURE in the past, only a GOD DAMNED MORON would order this one.