TOYOTA'S NEW AVALON THINKS BIG, AMERICAN

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It's a car with traditional family values: A big American-made sedan with a cushy bench seat.

Welcome to Toyota Avalon, the biggest Toyota ever and first six-passenger Japanese model available with that sofalike seat.

Unleashing an ad campaign estimated at more than $40 million, Toyota Motor Sales USA tonight introduces its new flagship on ABC during "NFL Monday Night Football."

The car marketer will then drive home the message with a single-night, estimated $2 million-plus, nine-spot buy on NBC's much-watched Thursday prime-time block.

Avalon is targeting affluent, educated 40-something owners of midsize cars looking to trade up. Toyota expects most owners to move from Japanese models, such as Toyota Camry or Honda Accord, rather than shifting from domestic makes.

"One of the main reasons for Avalon was to keep Toyota owners in the family," said VP Robert Weldon.

And even though Avalon bears some family resemblance to a Lexus, Toyota isn't worried about cannibalizing sales from its sister luxury division.

Avalon is made in Kentucky, and Toyota will note the U.S. ties in the three 30-second TV spots, print ads and direct mail, produced by Saatchi & Saatchi DFS/Pacific, Torrance, Calif.

"The car itself has a great deal of American flavor in it," Mr. Weldon said. "It is built by Americans, and it was designed for Americans."

Toyota has been promoting Avalon on Prodigy since last spring (AA, Nov. 7). It's also pushing the model through American Airlines' and United Airlines' airport lounges and in-flight videos.

Toyota projects Avalon sales somewhat greater than the 30,000 peak annual sales of Cressida, a big model that Toyota dropped three years ago. Toyota's top-seller Camry sells about 10 times that volume.

But as the new flagship, Avalon will make "an image statement, a quality statement" that goes beyond its sales, Mr. Weldon said.

Toyota will include Avalon's below-$23,000 starting price in TV commercials, convinced it will communicate value rather than sticker shock.

"We are extremely confident that the pricing is a huge selling feature," said Irv Miller, corporate advertising manager.

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