Toyota Pulls Wraps Off New Sienna

Automaker opts for online unveiling.

by on Jul.17, 2014

Working with three social media-savvy parents, Toyota launched its 2015 Sienna minivan on the internet.

It isn’t a good time for minivan fans. Two decades ago, they were the hippest things on wheels, just about every maker racing into the segment with new products loaded up with the hottest new features, whether juicebox holders, stowaway seats or rear entertainment systems. But with demand sliding, a growing number of makers are pulling out or trimming their minivan lines, Chrysler soon set to abandon the Dodge Grand Caravan model.

But don’t count Toyota out of the market. Quite the contrary, the maker revealing an updated version of the popular Sienna mom-mobile that introduces an intercom system so parents won’t have to scream at the kids battling in the back seats.

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In what might be a telling move, rather than reveal the 2015 Toyota Sienna at an auto show or some other traditional event, the Japanese maker pulled the wraps off digitally, with an online unveiling that showed off its potential, the maker explained, “through the eyes of three creative, social media-savvy parents. In a series of custom videos, these parents bring to life the everyday and sometimes unexpected adventures possible in and around the Sienna.”

Toyota has been the number three maker in an increasingly tight race with Chrysler – credited with inventing the modern minivan in 1984 – and Honda, which recently launched a new version of its strong-selling Odyssey model, complete with a first-ever, built-in vacuum.

The minivan market has been shrinking in recent years, but the competition Toyota faces with the new Sienna is still stiff.

Chrysler’s decision to ditch the Dodge Grand Caravan, continuing only its Town & Country line, underscores the trend in the minivan market, where demand has been on a decline for most of the last two decades. Minivan sales shrank by 4% in 2013, according to industry data, to 532,357. That’s still enough volume that the industry can’t completely write off what critics have dubbed “mom-mobiles,” but it’s a far cry from the 1.4 million minivans manufacturers like Chrysler sold at the segment’s peak in 2000.

The segment’s market share is actually up a wee bit so far this year, from 3.4% to 3.5%, according to data from tracking service Edmunds. But as Chrysler has shown, that’s not enough to support the broad range of offerings once seen. Ford and General Motors have already pulled out of the pack, putting their emphasis on the utility vehicles that now make up the industry’s largest segment.

But Toyota is betting that it can appeal to a broader segment than just families with the 2015 Sienna. Such options as black leather seats with contrasting white stitching aren’t meant for kids with leaky juiceboxes but empty-nesters who see vans as a great way to travel with friends.

That said, families are expected to make up the majority of the market. And while the 2015 Toyota Sienna gets some exterior upgrades, such as LED daytime running lights, expect dealers to be pitching the new Driver Easy Speak intercom system as a real benefit to frazzled parents tired of shouting loudly enough to be heard in the third row.

The interior space of the new 2015 Toyota Sienna is designed for comfort and convenience to compete with other minivans.

Toyota prefers to focus on the good times a van allows families to have, “relatable family moments that make us laugh and feel connected,” suggested the brand’s U.S. vice president. So it asked three families to put together videos of their road adventures.

(With loss of Dodge Grand Caravan, minivan market continues shrinking. For more, Click Here.)

That included Daniel “Hashi” Hashimoto, a Dreamworks after-effects artist who started out with home videos of his son, James, and morphed them into the viral YouTube sensation “Action Movie Kid,” in which he performed Sp virtual stunts like jumping over hot lava and wielding a working lightsaber. Hashi also used the Sienna to virtually take his son into space and underwater.

(Click Here to get details on Nissan’s plans to debut an autonomous vehicle by 2020.)

“Working with the Sienna inspired me to imagine how James might look at everyday driving adventures and share that fun perspective with other parents,” said Hashi. “As a dad, I love watching my son explore his world, and the Sienna gave us a new avenue to check out.”

(To see Aston Martin’s newest high-powered roadster, Click Here.)

Using the online launch, several observers suggested, allowed Toyota to talk directly to minivan buyers, rather than wasting its marketing budget pitching to consumers who might never buy a Sienna – or any other van.

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3 Responses to “Toyota Pulls Wraps Off New Sienna”

  1. veh says:

    So which minivan is FCA abandoning? You have it both ways in the story

    • Paul A. Eisenstein says:

      I’ll double-check but I believe we made clear the Town & Country is going away.

      Paul E.

  2. Michael Strong says:

    It is the Dodge Grand Caravan that is going away in 2016. In fact, we wrote a story about the Grand Caravan’s demise in early May. Any rumors about the death of the Town & Country are greatly exaggerated, and in this case, an inadvertent editing error.