Toyota Sets up NASCAR Garage in Cobo Hall

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Toyota has had it pretty rough over the past couple of years and, as it attempts to recover some enthusiasm for its brand, those efforts could be seen as a “split personality.”

At the 2011 North American International Auto Show, Toyota’s booth was a prime example. On one side of the rather expansive space, Toyota was proudly showing off its new family of Prius hybrid vehicles—while a few steps away sat the NASCAR Garage.

OK, so the other manufacturers involved in NASCAR also have electric or hybrid products on the road and under development. However, none of them had a giant NASCAR display surrounding them.

NASCAR is more important to Toyota than the casual observer might think. Being involved in North America’s biggest racing series was a key element to gaining brand exposure among the working class in the states. It took years of effort to get Toyota into the show, and they HAVE to stay there.

It may seem a contradiction to have V-8-powered race cars sitting next to hybrids, but the name of the game is car sales. Perhaps it’s just me, but somehow I don’t think too many blue-collar types south of the Mason-Dixon Line will be buying a Prius, but they might be herded into a Camry after a NASCAR race visit.

The interactive booth Toyota set up was actually pretty cool. They had the Denny Hamelin #11 on display outside the garage, and inside was a bunch of interactive displays for the fans to check out. There was a car racing game that allowed for some head-to-head action and a cut away display of a NASCAR drivetrain. There was also a Toyota NASCAR racing engine on display that was downright drool-worthy!

Both sides of the marketing equation are necessary tools for Toyota; it’s just a shame the ideology behind the two are so far apart.

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