Separated At Birth

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The Pontiac Vibe and Toyota Matrix are the automotive industry's version of fraternal twins. Through a joint venture, General Motors Corp. and Toyota Motor Sales USA are building 2003 cross-over vehicles that share the same underpinnings and have virtually the same interiors. The youth-targeted vehicles also have a common platform with the all-new, ninth-generation Toyota Corolla.

"The exterior is really the differentiator," said Steve Sturm, VP-marketing at Toyota.

The Toyota will also be cheaper, starting at $14,670. The Pontiac starts at $16,900, with the all-wheel-drive Vibe topping out at $20,100.

But styling and brand image will be more important in separating the two than pricing, said Jim Hall, VP-industry analysis at consultancy AutoPacific. Toyota is fighting the image that it's a brand for older buyers while Pontiac battles brand perception based on its last new model, the controversially styled Aztek.

GM and Toyota have taken this road before. GM's Geo Prizm was co-developed with the Toyota Corolla in the 1980s. Prizm production ceased recently. Corolla got more ad spending and was more successful, noted Jim Sanfilippo, exec VP of Automotive Marketing Consultants. Although both Toyota and Pontiac marketing executives said Matrix and Vibe will directly compete, Mr. Sanfilippo doesn't expect cross-shopping.

Publicis Groupe's Saatchi & Saatchi, Torrance, Calif., created a trio of TV spots for Matrix's estimated $15 million launch that began Feb. 3. In one, a high-tech robot lets a spy get away because it can't identify the Matrix. "It's something else" is the tag. "We're trying not to categorize [Matrix] in conventional [auto] terms," Mr. Sturm said. Toyota expects to sell 70,000 units annually.

A complementary effort from sibling Conill Advertising, New York, and Torrance, Calif. will also support Matrix. Promotional plans include select music tied to Toyota's partnership with Universal Music Group, along with events and an online AOL music site.

Pontiac's Vibe also has three TV spots that broke on the same date. Bcom3 Group's D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, Troy, Mich., uses the new umbrella divisional tag "Pass it on." Creative highlights the vehicle's 115-volt standard power outlet. One spot shows a man playing an electric guitar plugged into a parked Vibe.

"Pontiac Vibe brings a fresh face to the small-car market," said Craig Bierley, brand manager. He is targeting primarily urban dwellers, young professionals two years out of college and projects 30% will be first-time vehicle owners. Pontiac expects to sell about 40,000 Vibes this year, with sales reaching 60,000 units in 2003.

He said the target "is more resistant to traditional communications," which is why Pontiac has executed two online Vibe promos and a tour last fall of 10 campuses. Pontiac plans a 20-stop concert tour.

Toyota launches the redone 2003 Corolla Feb. 21 with the tag "The New Corolla just wants to have fun." The car is shown surfing, ice skating and flying in three separate spots. Mr. Sturm said Corolla, aimed at buyers under 39, will use different media than Matrix.

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