LOS ANGELES -- Toyota aims to get off to a fast start with its redesigned Sienna by introducing the minivan during the Winter Olympics. It is also counting on the much-maligned segment to expand some.
A major TV campaign is planned for the February broadcasts, aimed at young families expected to tune in for the Olympics, said Bob Carter, Toyota Division's general manager, at a press event here.
Toyota is betting on a resurgent minivan market and is sweetening the pot with a new design and an estimated $150 million in marketing dollars to back it up.
The segment has declined from more than 1 million sales as recently as 2005 to about 400,000 this year. But Carter said he expects minivan sales to rise starting next year and reach 500,000 to 550,000 as early as 2012.
With only four major players -- Chrysler, Dodge, Honda and Toyota -- he said the Sienna can take its fair share of sales.
"Half a million units with four players provides a lot of opportunity," Carter said. "This is a major launch, a core vehicle. Our launch presence on the Olympics will be very important for us."
Toyota sold 75,509 Siennas through November, down 31 percent. The Sienna trails Honda's Odyssey, the Dodge Caravan/Grand Caravan and the Chrysler Town & Country in the minivan sales race. But the Sienna still accounts for nearly 20 percent of a segment that is projected to grow.
Carter said a two-year internal study shows that young families don't see minivans as the official vehicle of soccer moms. They're looking for space and value. And he said empty nesters are looking at minivans for more comfort and space.
To meet those needs, Toyota has added its first four-cylinder to its minivan lineup. The 2.7-liter engine delivers 187 hp and 19 mpg in the city and 26 on the highway. A V-6 version still will be offered.