Case Study: How Toyota Got Me to Buy A Car I Didn’t Need

I hate buying a car. I don’t mean I’m slightly annoyed by the process. I truly HATE (with big caps) buying a car. Three years ago, after a car accident  totaled my vehicle I became a one car family for almost 6 months. I had insurance money and we desperately needed a second vehicle but I just couldn’t stomach the thought of buying a car. That’s how much I hate buying a car.

By now you can tell I’m not a person who finds cars pleasurable. Eventually, I broke down and bought a used 2007 Toyota Highlander. With just over 55,000 miles  it was performing just fine. My only problem was getting up the hill to my mountain cottage in the winter. That was solved in March by a last-minute purchase of new tires.  4Wheel drive would be nice for when the tires wore down, but after spending several hundred dollars on tires there was absolutely no reason to be looking for a new car. I owed about as much on my car loan as the car was worth, and it was driving like a charm.

So, how did I end up with this brand new 2012 tricked out Highlander in my driveway Monday night? Fantastic marketing at Toyota, that’s how!  Let me take you back one week to where it all started.

My perfectly acceptable 2007 Highlander’s inspection was due by the end of the month. When getting my oil changed, they noticed a break light was out. Since I wouldn’t pass inspection without it being fixed I asked them to change it. It turned out it has some type of factory seal and my usual service technician said I needed to visit the dealer.  Ugg, I never take my car to be serviced at the dealer. I always end up having to wait, and car dealerships make me cringe. But, inspection was looming so I scheduled an appointment. When scheduling the appointment the service desk asked for my mileage and updated my on file email address. They sent an appointment confirmation to my email address with a handy widget that placed a reminder directly on my calendar. That was pretty nice.

The day before my appointment I got another email from Tim. It looked like a personal note, no fancy HTML which I would have promptly ignored, and since I had an appointment I opened up the message and read it. Turns out Toyota was running a promotion to buy back vehicles with my mileage and would I like to get into a brand new 2012 Highlander for the same car payment by trading in and moving to zero percent financing.  Mind you I am NOT in the market for a new car.

But I was intrigued. I told him I’m not in the market for a new car, but if you could not only get me in a car for the same monthly payments but upgrade my vehicle to a 4 wheel drive, 7 passenger (my 2007 was 5 passenger, 2 wheel drive) I’d be interested to learn more.  He runs some calculations and comes back to me in a couple of hours letting me know he thinks that can happen.  Can I bring in the car to be appraised? Well, I’m already on my way to the dealer so what do I have to lose. My car is the usual mess so my expectations are low. I email back sure, I’ll be there at 2pm.

When I go to check in at service they tell me Tim is waiting to meet me in the showroom. After the cold shiver runs down my spine I step into the showroom with a smile. I’m challenging Tim now. How easy can you make this for me?  They run the carfax report and see I had an accident a couple of years ago and set me up that this will affect the appraisal. I assure them, that’s no problem. I don’t really need a new car anyway.

Tim asks if I’d like to put the service on hold since I might be getting a new car. Why pay for the new brake light and inspection? I can’t help but giggle at his optimism but what the heck, go ahead, take it down. I can always stay longer and get the break light fixed later in the afternoon.

After a bit of magic math on their part they come back and tell me they can do the deal. After checking out the car, picking a color and sharing some laughs with the sales team I just bought a new car. I leave in a bit of disbelief. It’s not until I go back two days later to pick up the car that it sinks in. I bought a new car I didn’t need and wasn’t looking for.

But the stories not over yet. Toyota did another smart thing. Remember I told you I don’t take my car into service at the dealership. As part of the new car purchase maintenance is offered for free for the first couple of years. Now even my dislike of car showrooms isn’t going to keep me away from free maintenance. So now, I’m hooked into regular visits. This means more data collection, and a cadence of opportunities to stay in touch with this once reluctant car buyer.

And the icing on the cake. I’m now telling everyone I know how easy it was to buy a car. One friend even asked for the sales guys phone number because she has a Toyota with 60,000 miles. She doesn’t NEED a new car, but if I could walk out happy, why shouldn’t she give it a go.

With smart analytics, friendly sales tactics and a great promotion Toyota created a compelling event for me to buy a car.

And in case you are wondering. I love the new car. After just a couple of days I’m wondering how I ever park without a rear-view camera. My vehicle expectations have just been raised.Now that’s great marketing! I tip my bumper to them!


  1. I just want to say congrats on the new car. I love going to the dealership and looking at cars. Especially Toyota…my Yaris is my 5th Toyota and I never have problems. You made a good decision…envjoy it.