DETROIT -- During the height of Toyota's recall crisis early last year, U.S. boss Jim Lentz tapped Twitter and other social media outlets to address consumers' concerns about the safety of Toyota vehicles.
On Tuesday, Lentz will take to Twitter again. The COO of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. will hold a live Twitter chat at 11 a.m. EST with consumers during the second media day of the Detroit auto show to discuss safety, quality... and the new Prius family of vehicles.
The expanded message mirrors the shifting outlook for Toyota as it attempts to shake off a year of record recalls and regain the trust of American buyers spooked by reports of unintended acceleration.
U.S. operations chief Don Esmond just last week said Toyota is “in full recovery mode” after “the most challenging time” in its 53-year history.
The stumble cost Toyota its No. 2 rank in U.S. sales last year to a climbing Ford Motor Co. Toyota's sharp decline and Ford's rising popularity put the two automakers “in a statistical dead heat” in a rating of the most favorably viewed auto brand in the United States, Consumers Reports magazine reported last week.
Both automakers will be banking on social media to bolster their image during the Detroit show.
Toyota: Facebook, games
Toyota will put the bulk of its attention on the Prius in an effort to capitalize on its position as the maker of the world's dominant gasoline-electric hybrid. Toyota is unveiling its entire family of Prius vehicles, including a 2012 wagon and a concept version of a Prius-based vehicle. A third-generation Prius and a Prius plug-in hybrid vehicle will also be displayed.
The online portion of Toyota's “Prius goes plural” campaign will urge show visitors to post pictures of themselves with the new Prius to their Facebook pages. Those who tag “Toyota Prius” will earn themselves a gift card.
In line with the growing popularity of online social games like Farmville and Mafia Wars, Toyota's Facebook fans can also visit Car Town. In this game, players attend a virtual auto show that mirrors the one in Detroit. Users who choose Prius vehicles will earn virtual money.
“Utilizing Prius vehicles will positively affect game play,” said Toyota spokesman Greg Thome. He said this is meant to reflect the Prius's “improved cost efficiency compared to other vehicles.”
The chat with Lentz will be available via Toyota's Twitter handle @Toyota.
Ford: Green bloggers
Meanwhile, Ford will invade the blogosphere during the auto show as it unveils its C-Max, a small alternative to a standard minivan.
In addition to marketing over Facebook and Twitter, Ford has invited 100 bloggers from around the world to attend Monday's media day. It's part of Ford's strategy to reach the people who will be buying vehicles, said Scott Monty, the automaker's head of social media. The bloggers represent online green living and green technology publications that may not typically write about the auto industry.
“We hope for significant buzz in real-time on Twitter and Facebook and the places they will be updating,” Monty said. “We hope to reach people who wouldn't normally follow news coming out of an auto show.”