Toyota reveals new Sienna minivan online – USA TODAY

Posted: Thursday, July 17, 2014

The refreshed 2015 Toyota Sienna gets LED daytime running lights, more soft-touch surfaces and Toyota’s cool intercom feature so the driver don’t have to scream at their kids in the third row of seats.

But if you’re not online, you may not find out.

Instead of a lavish auto-show debut, Toyota is showing off the new Sienna via the Web on Thursday using a few fun videos from parents who have discovered the wonders of social media.

Sierra is a solid player in the minivan segment dominated by the likes of Chrysler Town and Country and Honda Odyssey. After steadily losing share, minivans are now holding steady at 3.5% of vehicles sold this year, about the same as last year’s 3.4%, according to

“It’s not a huge market, but it’s still important,” analyst Jessica Caldwell says. And “Sienna is one of the more popular minivans, a good fit for the Toyota family.”

For its midcycle redo, Sienna doesn’t get as many changes outside as it will inside. With such touches as optional black leather seats with contrasting white stitching, it’s sure to feel more upscale. It shows that minivans are “moving away from (being strictly) utilitarian,” says Joe Phillippi of AutoTrends Consulting.

People who owned minivans before love their sheer practicality and hauling abilities, despite their frumpy image, and are inclined to buy new ones, he says. As a result, Sienna has the best chance of picking up buyers if designers have been “very imaginative and (have) come up with ‘surprise and delight’ kinds of features,” he says.

Kibo Kitahama, a Toyota national marketing and communications manager, says the new Sienna will certainly fit the bill. One delight: the Driver Easy Speak system, also found on the Highlander crossover, that allows parents behind the wheel to talk through a microphone while they are driving so they don’t have to yell at their kids in the third row. Kitahama says it’s an important safety feature because the driver no longer has turn around to shout.

To launch the Sienna, Toyota has recruited parents known for their viral videos to create their own for the minivan. One of them is Daniel “Hashi” Hashimoto, an animation effects artist who lives outside of Los Angeles. He created a stir with his Action Movie Kid videos. He says the videos featuring his son James, 3, as an action hero, have generated about 38 million page views.

For Toyota, he created a short segment in which he and James talk about becoming locked in a tractor beam, like in a Star Wars movie. Sure enough, they are pulled in what turns out to be their home garage. Hashimoto says he taped the segment with his smartphone, using the fantasy that his son had conjured.

Are the videos a good idea to introduce a vehicle? Sure, why not, Caldwell says. “Why spend the money” on a big auto show reveal “when you can spend the money another way?” she asks.

Sienna is, after all, about being practical.


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