Editorial: Lesson to learn from Olds woes

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Advertising Age's cover story last week revealed Toyota Motor Sales USA is searching for an agency to launch a youth line, a scion of brands Toyota and Lexus. Elsewhere on the cover, we noted General Motors Corp.'s move to slash Oldsmobile's national ad budget as it prepares to scrap Olds in 2004. It's good to see Toyota preparing for the future because Toyota, today, is in some ways similar to Olds in that brand's prime.

Toyota came of age in the 1970s with young boomers, who liked the value and economy of Corollas and Celicas. Boomers traded up to the dull-but-dependable Camry and Avalon. Toyota in December and January was the nation's top-selling car line. Toyota is at the top of its game.

So was Olds. Just 25 years ago, Olds Cutlass was the nation's No. 1 seller. During its best year-1985-Olds sold more than 1 million cars, making it the No. 3 car brand behind Chevrolet and Ford.

But Olds' loyal customers grew older, and the brand developed few distinct offerings to attract younger buyers. Sales plummeted. The late `80s "This is not your father's Oldsmobile" ads turned off dad and didn't attract the children. Finally, GM in late 2000 announced it would phase out its oldest brand.

The average car buyer in the U.S. is 44 years old, which also is the average age of Toyota buyers, according to J.D. Power & Associates. Toyota is squarely in the middle of the market. That's not all bad. But Toyota's average is second oldest (behind Subaru) of Japanese non-luxury brands. That's not all good.

Unlike Olds, Toyota is addressing the age issue while there's still time. Its new Matrix has youth appeal; the restyled Corolla targets younger customers. And it's launching a younger, flanker brand. Toyota understands what it takes to be relevant to all ages.

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