Supermodels and Miss Universe: Testimonials to the new Toyota

TOKYO -- At the new Toyota, it’s all about the car.

That’s why its car launches in Japan have transformed from stuffy corporate presentations to made-for-TV multimedia spectacles -- with no patience for reporters’ meddling questions.

Consider the debut event for the Lexus CT 200h, which went on sale here Jan. 12.

A piano concerto composed for the car, a DJ spinning trendy club music, a bevy of supermodels, discourse on the aesthetics of bamboo, Japanese fashion and modern architecture.

Testimonials from not only Miss Universe, but a Miss Universe runner-up to boot.

Toyota wants bigger hoopla around its vehicles. In essence, launches are now staged pageants advertising the car’s image and personality. No more reciting hum-drum engineering specs.

For staid Toyota, it’s a rather new tact. The company has gone glam before with product launches. But the new idea is to make it the norm, not the exception.

The switch was evident in November’s launch of the Ractis, a Japan-market subcompact. That presser highlighted the lifestyle of the target buyer.

Toyota’s new approach dovetails with President Akio Toyoda’s push to breathe vim and verve into a brand that long drew yawns from the fun-to-drive crowd.

But there’s fringe benefit for Toyota – and media shy Toyoda.

The new format also jettisons the traditional media Q&A session. One official said executives were tired of fielding corporate questions at an event that was supposed to sell a car. The company says it’s not intentionally dodging questions.

But to some reporters, there might be another reading: Toyota may be tired of fielding uncomfortable or off-message topics such as exchange rates, off-shoring of production or recalls.

One might forgive the rolling eyes of some journalists at this week’s CT 200h gala.