Could Ford’s Rise with Youth Send Toyota the Way of Oldsmobile?

Ford SYNC

The sure way to sell to young people

My grandpa drove an Oldsmobile.

Maybe if it had been a cool one, like an old Starfire or something, my perception of the brand would have been different. But his car was anything but cool… an early ’90s Cutlass Ciera. Eww.

So it was no real surprise to me when Oldsmobile closed shop. In my mind, it simply ran out of customers. What young person would want to buy a car with “Old” right in the name?

Today I have to wonder if Toyota could follow that same path.

To me, Toyota symbolizes quality and reliability. To younger people, the brand perception is being built around conservative styling, mass recalls, and congressional hearings. Not exactly ways to build trust with Generation Y.

Young people now entering the car-buying world are much less familiar with Toyota’s stellar history. Their parents might recommend a Toyota, but that would be like my grandpa telling me to go buy an Olds.

No way.

So where are the young people looking today? Ford.

According to a Detroit News story, young car buyers are being drawn into Ford dealerships by the automaker’s technology, and they are bringing their parents with them. That’s pretty good proof that Ford’s gamble to sell technology by partnering with Microsoft and Sony is paying off.

With Ford’s Sync technology, drivers can control their cell phones and music players with voice commands. That’s the kind of thing that will influence how iPad-obsessed members of Gen Y think about a car company. That, and the fact that Ford was the only U.S. automaker to rebuild its business without government help, bode well for a profitable future.

And no, I don’t think Toyota will go out of business, but I do think it has some serious ground to make up with young people if it wants to keep pace with the Blue Oval.

Are there any compelling reasons for American youth to buy a Toyota instead of a Ford? I think in the youth market Ford is the hands-down winner?

-tgriffith

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4 Comments

  1. @ jgoods
    Sync is terrible? I thought so at first too. But using voice to link up cell phones and music players in the car is brilliant. The next generation of car buyers want their life integrated to everything. Ford’s on top of that and will grow along with Gen Y.

  2. Tim makes good points. I will bet Toyota is well aware of their problems by now, and I would never count out what is still a very strong and successful company. They are using cars like the Scion to find a youth market–how well isn’t yet clear. I think electronic gadgetry in cars, like the Ford-MS Sync, is terrible but it seems to win over the younger buyers.

  3. I agree that unless Toyota makes some changes, they could follow GM’s Oldsmobile brand, which was heavily discounted as the brand faltered and eventually met with oblivion. Is not Toyota currently heavily discounting their own brand? Although reeling from the current bad publicity, Toyota still leads the pack in terms of global market share.

    One of Toyota’s problems that is described in this post: they have been deaf to the “voice of the customer.” This was not always the case. At one time, Toyota carefully analyzed their customers’ needs, bringing to market the innovative Lexus luxury brand. As a result, they grabbed market share away from competitors such as BMW, Mercedes and Cadillac.

    However, lately Toyota has ignored what their customers’ expect in terms of safety and quality. Many believe that Toyota has stoned-walled the NHTSA–regarding internal, quality problems–for several years. Toyota must solve three problems to get back on track:

    1) Establish top management leadership
    2) Fix cracks in the “Toyota Production System”
    3) Revamp its organizational structure.

    By fixing the root causes of their problems, Toyota may be able to compete with Ford for the allegiance of younger buyers.

    Tim Mojonnier

    http://www.philosophiesofbusiness.com/blog/2010/03/23/leadership/toyota-needs-leadership-at-the-top

  4. Ford’s got a lot of things going for it right now: the Sync system, the Focus Hybrid, improving reliability ratings, the fact that it didn’t take bailout bucks, and Americans’ desire to help our economy by buying from U.S. companies. And Toyota completely mishandled, at least initially, the PR nightmare of its recent unintended acceleration issues and recalls. I’d say Ford deserves to take some of Toyota’s market share, particularly among young people.

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