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Last Updated: Tuesday, 1 March, 2005, 19:59 GMT
Toyota targets Europe's urban youth
By Jorn Madslien
BBC News business reporter at the Geneva motor show

Toyota's Aygo unveiled
Even the Aygo's unveilers were infused with urban cool
Toyota has long been known as a sensible and reliable car maker, and with its hybrid Prius model it has even added green credentials to its image.

But urban cool has never been its forte - until now.

"The mission of Aygo is to introduce Toyota to new, young customers," said Anrea Formica, vice president in charge of sales and marketing for Toyota Europe.

Toyota's tiny Aygo is a streetwise mini-car that marks the company's first venture into an extremely competitive segment where customers are hard to win over and profit margins are tight.

Mobile nightclub

At the car's launch in Geneva, Toyota showed off its vision of youth; DJs swinging their hips and clicking their fingers, fit men leaping off the roof of the car maker's makeshift restaurant building.

Aygo's DJ car
Aygo's show car, turned into a DJ's den

This, it seemed, was all about 'respect'.

The car itself turned out to be a convertible, though not in the traditional sense of the word.

Rather than having a removable roof, one of the Aygo-models on display had a sliding rear-end, which once pulled out turned into a DJ's den.

The loudspeakers were hidden in the doors, and by opening them the vehicle was quickly turned into a mobile nightclub.

Major campaign

The laidback display belied a truly serious and entirely focused automotive giant whose European ambitions are nothing if not grand.

Lexus IS
Toyota is gunning for the European market with its new Lexus
The car group, which makes Toyota and Lexus cars, sells almost a million cars per year in Europe, where its market share has remained static at around 5% for years.

Its long-term goal of selling 1.25 million cars in Europe should be aided by the Aygo's launch.

The Aygo shares both its architecture and several parts with similar models made by the French car makers Peugeot and Citroen at a greenfield site which they built together in the Czech Republic.

This will help make the model profitable, despite a lavish marketing campaign that will target youth in 10 European cities, Toyota hopes.

Cleaner engines

In many ways, the Aygo is an antidote to ordinary cars; defined by what it will not do. Its three-cylinder, one litre petrol engine will not be thirsty and it will not be a major polluter.

The same will be true for models due to be built by Toyota's luxury brand Lexus which unveiled its first car to be powered by a diesel engine.

Toyota Aygo
Market watchers check out the Aygo's credentials
The IS220D is the product Lexus Europe director Stuart McCullough has been waiting for for years.

"Clean diesel is key to win market share," he told BBC News.

Lexus will also introduce at least one and possibly even two more hybrid cars during the year, Mr McCullough said.

"In the past, our products have not been targeted at the European market," he said, adding that this is about to change with Lexus' new engine line-up.

Lexus Europe vice president Carl Schlicht anticipated a lift in sales from the current 25,000 to 65,000 by the end of the decade.

Lexus, which is a leading luxury marque in the US, has announced similar ambitions for its European ambitions before, off course.

But at the time nobody believed it was serious.

This time, the car maker's anticipated sales growth will be backed by a fivefold increase in its marketing budget to more than 150m euros and by a dealer network that will eventually number 350 dedicated Lexus showrooms.

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