Hybrids are "not purchased by African-American communities in large quantities," Mia Phillips, Toyota's national manager of brand, multicultural and crossline marketing strategy, told Automotive News, "but we have made a concerted effort to make sure that group knows a lot more about hybrid vehicles so they can make the right decision at the end of the day about what's best for them."
Toyota has led the large minority categories for many years, despite aggressive campaigns by competitors to target specific groups. Four years ago, Toyota moved to sharpen its marketing further by bringing its multicultural agencies together with its main agency of record, Saatchi & Saatchi, and organizing marketing teams around specific products rather than demographic groups. The teams operate out of shared space at Toyota's North American headquarters in Plano, Texas.
The move has helped position Toyota to capitalize on demographic trends in the U.S. Over the last three years, Phillips said, the growth of new-vehicle registrations for Asian, black and Hispanic consumers more than tripled that of the non-Hispanic white population, for Toyota and the industry. She added that 35 percent of Toyota's new-vehicle registrations are derived from consumers in minority groups.
"We have worked for a long time to be an integral part of diverse communities, so the loyalty rates are quite high," said Jim Lentz, CEO of Toyota Motor North America. "No. 1 in African-American, No. 1 Hispanic, No. 1 Asian nameplate. And that's pretty important because that's the demographic shift of America. So, I think that helps us."
Marc Bland, IHS Markit's vice president of diversity and inclusion, said Toyota stands out, in part, because it is one of the few automakers that have agencies of record for each of the "big three" minority groups: Burrell Communications for African-Americans, Conill for Hispanics and InterTrend Communications for Asian-Americans.
When it's time to go to market with a product, Bland said, these agency partners can advise Toyota on how best to communicate with ethnic consumers. But just as important, they can steer Toyota away from ideas that might ruffle feathers, such as a 2001 Saatchi & Saatchi ad for the RAV4 featuring a golden tooth jewel that triggered complaints from civil rights leader Jesse Jackson.
"They look at diverse consumers as well as all consumers with a 360 view," Bland said, adding: "They create a vision where people can see themselves in a Toyota."
Bland said Toyota experienced a slide last year among ethnic buyers, noting that the decline occurred as the company dealt with departures of several key executives whom he called titans of the industry.
These included Jim Colon, who retired in 2016 as vice president, African-American business strategy; Pat Pineda, a group vice president of Hispanic business strategy who also retired; and Latondra Newton, former chief diversity officer, who joined Walt Disney Co. in February.
But Toyota, he said, will continue to move forward with the likes of Phillips and Alva Adams-Mason, its director of multicultural business alliance and strategy.
The Afropunk appearances extend the reach of the Toyota Green Initiative, a nearly decade-old program founded to educate students and alumni from historically black colleges and universities about sustainability and green living.
Toyota, which sponsors three HBCU athletic conferences, also pushes the green initiative and its hybrid lineup at sporting events, including the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association's basketball tournament in Charlotte, N.C.