The Business of Fun

Is the return of the Supra a pure passion play? Or will it also boost the bottom line? We shall see.

December 03, 2019
A Star is Reborn -- The automotive media swarm over the 2020 GR Supra during its official coming out party at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January.
 

If you let your emotions do the talking, is there any doubt they’d make a compelling case for the return of the Supra?

Of course not.

But what about on purely rational terms? Akio Toyoda’s decision to green light the development of the 2020 GR Supra has been great for the heartrate. But will it be great for the business?

We shall see.

But if you step back a bit and look at the bigger picture, you can begin to see how the all-new Supra could boost Toyota’s bottom line — if not directly in unit sales then indirectly in a brand-wide image lift.

 
Going, Going, Gone! -- The first production Supra drew a winning bid of $2.1 million at the annual Barrett-Jackson Auction in January. All of the proceeds went to support the American Heart Association and the Bob Woodruff Foundation.

A Shot of Adrenaline

The Supra is what marketers refer to as a “halo vehicle” that casts a glow over every other product in the lineup.

“It’s like a shot of adrenaline,” says Senior Vehicle Marketing Analyst Jessie Modi. “In preparing for the launch of the vehicle, we held multiple meetings in the field. And I can tell you the level of excitement — from the general manager all the way down to the vehicle supply manager — was off the charts. We heard from team members who’ve worked for the company for 20 years tell us that the launch event was the most exciting day of their careers. This car is a star.”

The impact of that emotional jolt is difficult to measure. But it is palpable. And as it works its way through to dealer principals and, ultimately, frontline salespeople, it can make a difference. Customers can sense the excitement.

And that, in turn, can lead to sales — of Supras, sure, but also other vehicles in Toyota’s product lineup.

“Supra is bringing people into the store that otherwise wouldn’t be there,” says Supra Marketing Manager Nicholas Miller. “We have seen customers, after they interact with the Supra, take a look at the track-inspired 86, but also vehicles like RAV4 and Tacoma. Supra invigorates the whole brand in ways that we’ve never seen before.”
 
Super Bowl Supra -- The Supra launch included a 60-second Super Bowl TV spot titled "Wizard," that showcased the car's performance capabilities amid a life-sized pinball machine -- spurred on by The Who's iconic song, "Pinball Wizard."

Riding the Wave

This emotional wave started to gather strength when it rolled into Detroit in January, where the production Supra reveal generated the largest media turnout of the North American International Auto Show.

It continued to build in the spring at the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) Measuring Session in Los Angeles, where representatives of some 130 aftermarket companies (making it SEMA’s most attended measuring session) swarmed prototypes to begin assessing how they could jump on the bandwagon. There would have been more attendees, but SEMA had to restrict the number due to space and time limitations.

It carried through to the car’s national press preview in May that drew writers from the usual auto enthusiast publications and blogs, but also from lifestyle magazines like Esquire and Playboy.

And prospective buyers added to the swell. An online pre-launch marketing campaign netted more than 50,000 hand-raisers who said they wanted to know more. As anticipated, some 87 percent of them were men and more than half fell between the ages of 30 and 49. Less obvious: 25 percent were Hispanic. And 40 percent live in California, Texas and Florida.

Lexus vehicles like the LFA and, more recently, the LC have generated a similar surge of interest beyond the brand’s core customer base. But this might well be a first for Toyota, or at least the first in a very long time.

“We haven’t had a true sports car since the last Supra,” says Modi. “And we won’t have another launch like this until the next generation Supra arrives. For a lot of folks, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Simply put, Supra is the pulse-quickening face of a new Toyota. How much is that worth?
 
Back on Track -- The Supra returned to motorsports competition in NASCAR's Xfinity Series, led by Toyota driver Christopher Bell.

More Than the Sum of Its Sales

Supra should hit its first-year sales target of 1,500 units despite the fact that two of its likely vehicle segments — Sports Coupe and Near Luxury Coupe — are in decline. And the third, Prestige Luxury Coupe, is at best treading water.

Whether Supra can maintain that level in succeeding years is an open question. Sports car sales tend to be fast out of the gate, then slower over time. But, again, that’s only one measure of the Supra’s impact on the larger business.

“If not for Akio’s enthusiasm, the return of the Supra probably doesn’t happen,” says Miller. “It’s a vehicle born from passion, not logic. But that doesn’t mean it won’t make a difference. In many ways, it already has.”

By Dan Miller

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