Toyota Pitches Venza as 2 Cars in 1

NEW YORK In the midst of the worst climate for new car launches in decades, Toyota is introducing Venza, a crossover that is being pitched as a model that could take the place of two cars.

A TV spot that broke yesterday features a seamless tracking shot showing Venzas tooling around town as ambient electronic music plays. A voiceover concludes that Venza is “a car that keeps pace with you. Because you’re more than one thing and so is Venza.”

Cindy Knight, a Toyota rep, said the Venza, which starts around $26,000, is “70 percent car and 30 percent SUV” and fits between the Camry and the Highlander in Toyota’s lineup. Todd Turner, president of consultancy Car Concepts, Thousand Oaks, Calif., said it’s important that the Venza is able to switch between the two roles as more consumers decide to make do with one fewer car. “Toyota is betting that people are going to want something that combines two cars into one,” he said.

The launch, via Saatchi & Saatchi, Los Angeles, will eventually include two more TV spots and print, all of which break in January. A Hispanic-targeted ad themed “Tu Decide (You Decide)” and an African-American-targeted campaign asking “Are you Venza?” via Conill and Burrell, respectively, are also breaking this month.

Knight said the media placement is based on “passion points” related to the target customer including cuisine, pets, travel and health and wellness. That prompted buys during Bravo’s Top Chef, the National Geographic Channel’s The Dog Whisperer and the Westminster Kennel Club dog show, among other venues.

Venza (the name is an amalgam of “venture” and “Monza,” the Italian racecourse) is Toyota’s first nameplate launch since 2006’s Yaris. Spending was not disclosed.

The launch comes as the federal government has agreed to loan General Motors and Chrysler $13.4 billion to keep them afloat. Toyota hasn’t been immune to the slowdown.

The company announced this week that it planned to post its first yearly operating loss in about 70 years. Turner, while agreeing that this is a “very bad climate for a launch,” said Toyota and other automakers still need to launch new cars to remain viable. While Toyota is in a better position than the U.S. automakers, Turner said being Japanese may work against it: “There are some consumers that will be more inclined to buy domestic brands out of patriotism.”