Group Think: Toyota’s CH-R Cute Ute Challenges Assumptions About Reluctant Millennials – Forbes

Posted: Thursday, June 29, 2017

What Toyota has done in launching the new CH-R subcompact utility vehicle represents a vote of confidence in the American millennial as much as it does the timely filling of a crucial hole in the brand’s product lineup.

In promoting CH-R — it stands for “Coupe High-Rider” — as a spritely, fun, stylish and richly contented get-about, and an ideal first vehicle for young members of Generation Y, Toyota is betting that one of the auto industry’s abiding fears about America’s biggest demographic group is largely unfounded. Not long ago, the conventional wisdom was that millennials were relatively unconcerned about not only car ownership but also even about driving.

“We don’t see slack,” John Myers, national manager of Toyota Motor sales, told me. “While millennials come in later to get their driver’s licenses and drive cars, they are purchasing vehicles. They’re doing a lot of what you traditionally do in life, just a few years later.”

That means the timing has worked out just about right for Toyota’s introduction of the CH-R, a “cute ute” whose prices start in the low $20,000s. Offering an alternative to the increasingly disfavored sedan, CH-R’s “three key items are styling, being fun to drive, and offering our full suite of safety items as standard, which no one else in the segment does,” said Myers, ticking off CH-R’s automated-driving features such as dynamic radar cruise control and lane-departure alert with steering assist.

Prior to 2010, he said, the subcompact-utility segment didn’t exist. Then there were some early entrants, such as the Nissan Juke and Kia Soul. By 2016, the number of models in the segment exploded and, last year, sales grew by more than 1,200 percent, Myers said. The expectation is for further 60-percent growth in the next couple of years.

Toyota almost didn’t get the CH-R. It started as a low-budget ute for Scion, the youth-oriented brand that Toyota deep-sixed a couple of years ago because it never really caught on. So Toyota plugged the subcompact crossover vehicle into a hole in its own brand lineup, taking the CH-R somewhat upscale in the process.

The brand is launching its “daring crossover” in an online video series that updates fairy-tale classics and traditional stories of mischief-makers — for the modern age. So, for example, Cindy (aka Cinderella) picks up her fairy godmother and hotfoots it to the palace bar in a C-HR, while a ginger-haired man (aka the Gingerbread Man) flees from the hordes who seek him in his C-HR.

“The all-new C-HR is truly unlike any vehicle Toyota has ever launched. One of our main objectives was to spark interest and enthusiasm in a creative campaign equally as captivating as the vehicle itself,” stated Ed Laukes, group vice president of marketing for Toyota Motor Sales USA. “The fairy tales we use in the creative element are timeless classics, but we’re telling them in a fresh and mischievous way.”

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