Toyota Markets Real Cars in Virtual World

Auto maker Toyota is hoping that a nightclub made of interlinked giant virtual cars will result in positive buzz for its Scion cars among the denizens of teen-friendly virtual world There.com.

The virtual world's creator Makena Technologies Inc. and Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc. announced a deal on Thursday to promote Toyota's Scion entry-level car brand through the creation of Club Scion. The club consists of a virtual tower of models of Scion xA, xB and tC cars that are large enough to each function as nightclubs with music, dance floors, seats, hot tubs and special lighting effects. The cars are connected via walkways and ladders.

As corporations experiment with establishing their products in a number of virtual worlds, one thing they're looking for each environment to provide is a fresh take on their brands. That's something that Makena was keenly aware of when designing Club Scion in partnership with virtual design studio Metaversatility. The idea of having virtual Scions for people to drive around in "had been done to death," said Makena CEO Michael Wilson.

For Scion, which already has a presence in other virtual worlds, including Numedeon Inc.'s Whyville, originality is key. "We want each of our integrations with virtual worlds to be unique," Adrian Si, interactive marketing manager for Scion at Toyota Motor Sales USA, wrote in an e-mail.

Toyota's overall investment in virtual worlds is a "strong six-figure one," Si added, focused on Scion. The vendor hopes that establishing itself in virtual environments, particularly those popular among preteens and teenagers, will win the Scion brand a coolness factor that could then translate into it selling more cars.

As with other structures in There.com, Club Scion is all about promoting sociability, according to Makena's Wilson. Inhabitants will be able to rent out the giant cars to hold their own meetings as well as use them as nightclubs, he said. Makena deliberately built Club Scion right next to an area where people do a lot of racing on dune buggies and hover boards in the anticipation that those individuals would also be interested in checking out the oversized cars.

"We don't want to give people a patch of virtual dirt and say 'Good luck'," Wilson said. Instead, Makena works to help corporations looking to set up in There.com to think through how best to present and locate itself in the virtual world.

Toyota had minimal input into the design of Club Scion. "When we work with virtual worlds, our assumption is they know their users better than we do, so we allow them to recommend the integration," Si wrote. "This idea was There's. They felt it would communicate both our vehicle attributes and at the same time our strong belief in community."

There are no plans to make the giant vehicles more interactive to, for instance, allow people to push buttons on a virtual car's dashboard, but that may change over time. "In order for us to continue to draw individual users to our space, we need to constantly update the content," Si wrote.

The cars already contain interactive kiosks where people can access the Web to find out more about Scion.

Wilson expects to announce more deals along the lines of the one with Toyota and a partnership with Capitol Music Group, which was announced in June. Under the deal with the EMI Group PLC business unit, Capitol Music artists are visiting There.com virtual nightclubs in avatar form to be quizzed by their fans. Makena has also set up interactive kiosks where fans can buy both real and virtual world band merchandise.

Makena and Toyota didn't disclose financial details about the deal.

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