European Hybrids Race to Succeed in U.S. Launches

In One of the Most Difficult Sales Periods Ever, Which Will Win Battle?

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DETROIT (AdAge.com) -- Three European automakers are introducing smaller luxury crossovers and SUVs this quarter, which is poised to be one of the most difficult periods for the U.S. industry in more than 40 years.

"It will be interesting to see who prevails in the slugfest," said John Maloney, VP-marketing and product planning, Volvo Cars North America. Volvo says small premium sport utilities are the world's fastest-growing industry segment, and within the next few years, buyers will have at least 10 crossover models to choose from.

Volvo will be the last to market in the segment, butting heads with Mercedes-Benz USA and Audi of America. The newest-generation Lexus RX will launch this week, and although auto experts place that bigger model in a different competitive category, its pricing and size mean Toyota's luxury marque could well be on the same shopping lists as the trio of new Europeans.

  MERCEDES-BENZ USA
 
MODEL 2010 GLK
AD LAUNCH Was first out of the gate, with national broadcast and cable TV airing since mid- January. The model was prelaunched via branded integration in "Sex and the City" and promotions at enthusiast events.
CREATIVE AGENCY Omnicom Group's Merkley & Partners, New York
AD THEME "Small is smarter."
BASE PRICE $34,775
DIFFERENTIATION All the safety and technology in a smaller, affordable package
  AUDI OF AMERICA
 
MODEL 2009 Q5
AD LAUNCH A pair of 30-second spots will break Feb. 22 during ABC's Academy Awards broadcast. TV will get the biggest slice of launch dollars.
CREATIVE AGENCY Independent Venables Bell & Partners, San Francisco
AD THEME "A distinctive vehicle in a sea of sameness."
BASE PRICE $37,200
DIFFERENTIATION Aggressive styling; three-zone climate control; alleged bestin- class EPA-certified fuel economy
  VOLVO CARS
OF NORTH AMERICA
 
MODEL 2010 XC60
AD LAUNCH Will break in second half of March with three 30-second TV spots. Prelaunched in early December with X60 blog that links to an XC60 YouTube channel, search-term buys, and a six-month experiential tour.
CREATIVE AGENCY Havas' Arnold Worldwide, Boston, and Nitro, London
AD THEME "Finally a car that stops itself."
BASE PRICE $38,025
DIFFERENTIATION Standard City Safety system that automatically brakes if it senses it is about to hit a car ahead
  LEXUS DIVISION,
TOYOTA MOTOR SALES USA
 
MODEL Redone 2010 RX 350
AD LAUNCH National TV breaks today, bolstered by regional-dealer ad groups airing the same spots. Extensive online push includes homepage takeovers Feb. 18. Prelaunch events have been held in key cities since January.
CREATIVE AGENCY Publicis Groupe's Team One, El Segundo, Calif.
AD THEME "Reinventing the vehicle that invented it all."
BASE PRICE $36,800
DIFFERENTIATION Latest-generation casual-voicerecognition system
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