Toyota Drives Shoppers to Innovative Showroom Mall

The biggest showroom of The Mall?The biggest showroom of The Mall?

Troubled by lackluster sales in the once-booming Japanese car market, Toyota has decided that if shoppers won't come to them, they'll go to the shoppers. The Tressa Indoor Shopping Mall, set to open March 27 in Yokohama just west of Tokyo, is the latest example of the company's bold new philosophy.

Toyota has poured a lot of yen into the Tressa complex, which boasts 220 stores and restaurants, an arcade game center, a nail salon and a gym. What makes it different from other malls in Japan and elsewhere is that the walkways are strewn with the latest Toyota models and the shopping carts are designed to look like cars. Toyota-built MOBIRO robots, one playing a violin, are also on display and may even be "helping out" at the mall later this year!


What's the reason for all this? According to Toyota Senior Managing Director Yoichiro Ichimaru, "We need to provide opportunities for people to come in contact with cars." Strange words, perhaps, but numbers tell an even stranger story: domestic sales fell 4 percent last year even as the company's foreign sales leaped by 10 percent. Forecasts for the domestic industry as a whole are equally gloomy, with fiscal year sales projections for 2008 amounting to just 5.3 million vehicles; a 27-year low.

The East is red...The East is red...

A number of factors have combined to hit Japan's carmakers at home, where it really hurts. High gas prices, monthly parking charges of up to $100 for city apartment dwellers, and worsening traffic congestion all discourage vehicle ownership. In addition, Japan's public transit system has become so efficient that a growing number of city-dwellers survive quite well without the use of a car.

Imagine how a commuter feels... stuck in bumper-to-bumper Tokyo traffic while just a few feet below, gleaming subway trains spirit passengers to nearly every part of the world's largest megalopolis.

Tokyo's sublime subway systemTokyo's sublime subway system

"Domestic sales are a total disaster now," says Atsushi Kawai, an auto analyst with Mizuho Investors Securities. "A car used to symbolize a dream. People used to work hard to buy a car. These days, nobody is saying that. No one thinks a car is cool anymore." Harsh words, but the bleeding Toyota, Nissan and other Japanese carmakers are suffering is quite real. Stopping the flood of red ink calls for innovative solutions, the Tressa Indoor Shopping Mall being a prime example.

Toyota's management foresaw these societal changes some time ago. In 1999, the company established a subsidiary called Toyota Automall Development Corp. which already operates a Toyota shopping mall in Gifu Prefecture near Toyota's headquarters.

It's difficult to say whether Toyota's strategy will work to boost interest in their vehicles, but we have an expression here in the West: "you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink." (via The Modesto Bee, graph c/o Money Matters)