Prius: Steve Sturm

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Toyota Motor Sales USA has seen the future, and its name is Prius.

The hot-selling sedan is Toyota's first electric-gasoline hybrid. The clean, fuel-efficient $19,995 car gets an eye-popping 52 mpg in city driving and 45 on the highway. The Japanese automaker has limited U.S. availability this year to only 12,000 units, and the small car has been selling out. Through August, Toyota had already sold 9,754 of the cars.

"There have been more orders than cars since day one" in July 2000, beams Steve Sturm, 50, Toyota Division VP-marketing, who also oversaw the March 1998 launch of the wildly popular Infiniti RX 300 sport-utility vehicle. Unlike elsewhere in the industry, "Everyone is paying the full manufacturer's suggested retail price" for Prius, he notes.

Mr. Sturm says the Prius marketing plan matched the high-tech car. Toyota began educating consumers about Prius technology nearly two years before the first car went on sale. During that time, Toyota developed a dialogue with more than 40,000 consumers who visited a special site within and asked for more information about Prius.

When asked why Prius is selling so well, Mr. Sturm explains that its buyers "are early adopters, and they want a car that's fuel efficient and ecologically pleasing." Also, rising gas prices have made Prius "a more relevant product."

Despite the limited availability of Prius, Toyota gave the car $29 million in measured media support last year, according to Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR. Publicis Groupe's Saatchi & Saatchi, Torrance, Calif., created a memorable launch TV commercial showing chimps applauding the car in the middle of the jungle. A 15-second version ran on national cable TV for three months.

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