DETROIT -- You didn't have to attend last month's Detroit auto show to watch Lexus Division introduce its redesigned LS 460 sedan. The flagship's unveiling was as close as your computer screen.
Lexus broadcast the presentation via streaming video on its Web site, lexus.com/autoshow. Lexus also has provided programming from this year's Chicago and Los Angeles auto shows.
It has similar plans for the New York show in April. The Web site also offers videos of Lexus vehicles and links to dealers.
The luxury division of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. is an industry leader in interactive online marketing. Live Web content is emerging as an important medium for automakers to reach target customers and sell vehicles.
"With the convergence of technology to support these platforms, the bandwidth to carry content and the significant push to develop new content for these channels, online mediums have gone from niche to mainstream," said Robin Pisz, Lexus' national interactive marketing manager.
"Online provides new methods to reach the influential audience that participates in online conversations," Pisz told Automotive News at the Detroit auto show. "They have the tendency to disseminate information throughout their own peer groups."
Pisz declined to say what Lexus spends on interactive marketing. But she called it "the way of the future." Interactive marketing not only conveys product information, she said, but also influences consumer preferences, creates buzz and gets customers into Lexus showrooms.
Lexus' online marketing activities also include chat groups and forums. They provide content for digital audio players -- so-called podcasts -- and for cell phones. The interactive efforts are integrated to boost their overall effectiveness, Lexus marketers say.
In addition to the LS 460, Lexus is giving the redesigned IS sport sedan series a big interactive push.
To help launch the 2006 IS 250 and 350, Lexus executives have done podcast and online interviews. In a live chat on the automotive Web site Edmunds.com, Lexus General Manager Bob Carter joked to prospective IS customers that "you'll drive like you just stole it."
Last fall, Lexus promoted the IS with an online sweepstakes that attracted 67,000 entries. It invited Web users to submit personal photos. The photos that Lexus selected became part of a "photomosaic" projected on an electronic sign in New York's Times Square. Lexus called the mosaic the world's largest digital display.
Unlike other automakers, notably General Motors, Lexus does not use Web logs, or blogs, as part of its interactive marketing. Instead, Pisz said, the company is building Web pages that, for example, will link owners of Lexus hybrids.
Deborah Wahl Meyer, Lexus Division's vice president of marketing, said in an e-mail interview that her company will "continue to support all the new media opportunities."
"We will look to find unique ways to reach our customers through traditional means or more unexpected channels," Meyer said. "Our brand must continue to find the right touch points to drive engagement and sales."