PHOENIX -- How does an automaker market a safety feature that a customer cannot see or feel in action?
Toyota Motor Corp. says its new Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management, or VDIM, system takes skid control and traction control to new levels. Most stability systems intercede when they detect wheel spin. But Toyota says VDIM anticipates loss of control before it occurs.
The biggest marketing hurdle Toyota faces is that VDIM cannot be deactivated with a switch, unlike many other traction control systems.
Dealership employees cannot demonstrate the system's effectiveness by driving with it turned on and off. And they cannot show potential buyers dramatic film footage similar to that of airbags deploying.
"It's hard to understand VDIM until you can feel, touch and experience it," said Chuck Gulash, vice president of vehicle evaluation and engineering for Toyota Technical Center U.S.A. Inc. "It's going to be even harder than when antilock brakes debuted."
Gulash made his comments during a press event at Toyota's desert testing center here. Modified Toyota and Lexus vehicles had their safety systems deactivated for a VDIM presentation.
Such demonstrator vehicles would cost too much for a dealership to maintain. That leaves salespeople to describe what is happening underneath the occupants. Since much of the VDIM system relies on software, that's a tough task.
Educating customers about VDIM will take a long time, Gulash conceded.
VDIM is standard on the Lexus GS 430 sedan and the Lexus RX 400h and Toyota Highlander Hybrid SUVs. Executives say the system will spread through the Lexus and Toyota lineups as vehicles are redesigned.
Lexus has used its TV commercials to show off various safety features. Descriptions and images of VDIM may have to be almost metaphorical, an executive said.
In Japan, where consumers are quicker to embrace safety marketing, Toyota has embarked on a "zero accidents vision."
The campaign seeks to reduce traffic deaths to zero, with vehicles that use adaptive cruise control and pre-collision systems. Its emphasis is on preventing accidents rather than protecting vehicle occupants from inevitable crashes.
Toyota opened the program in Japan with press conferences, technology demonstrations and driver safety initiatives. Gulash said Toyota does not plan a U.S. version of the campaign.
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