This past week, I was fortunate enough to attend the Toyota Women's Influencers Network event, or "TWIN Camp" at Toyota's US Headquarters in Torrance, California. Toyota brought together a diverse group of bloggers from all over the US to learn about the company, give feedback on the car-buying process, and test drive some of Toyota's latest products. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting the Toyota executives and the other bloggers and the entire TWIN Camp experience. The trip was organized through the Clever Girls Collective social media agency, and all of our expenses were paid to attend.
We started the day at the Toyota corporate training center, aka Toyota University, with a talk by David Nordstrom, Vice President of Digital & Social Media for Toyota Motor Sales, USA. David spoke about Toyota's company culture and the spirit of "kaizen" or continuous improvement that permeates every aspect of the company. Toyota is constantly looking for ways to learn, improve, and grow through innovation. We learned about The Toyota Way, which includes respect, team work, and challenge.
During the morning session, we also heard from Michael Rouse, VP of Philanthropy and Community Affairs, about the numerous philanthropy and community relations efforts that Toyota sponsors each year. One of the most impressive is the 100 Cars for Good campaign, which is going on right now. Through 100 Cars for Good, Toyota donates 100 new cars to charitable organizations through a Facebook voting campaign. Michael impressed everyone with his focus on giving back to the community, with particular emphasis on programs on safety, the environment, and education. He noted that each dealership is given a matching grant for up to $10,000 each year to give to local community groups of their choosing. On the safety front, Toyota offers a driving safety course for teens and their parents called Driving Expectations, which is offered throughout the US.
Aside from the presentations on Toyota, the executives spent a great deal of time listening to us about our experiences as car buyers. Many of us had the classic experience of either being swarmed or ignored at car dealerships, being told "come back with your husband and we'll talk price" when we were the ones buying the car, and generally being pigeonholed into minivans just because we are moms. They took copious notes, and allowed each one of us to talk about our experiences, both good and bad, at buying cars, whether they were Toyotas or another brand. I have been to these types of corporate events before, and often it feels as though it is a one-way conversation, with the brand telling us how great they are, without asking for input from us as consumers and influencers. Toyota did a great job of really listening to our concerns and seemed to value our input.
After a morning of lively discussion, we enjoyed box lunches and headed outside to test drive some of the latest Toyota cars, including the Sienna Minivan, Prius V, Prius C, and Camry. We were met by product marketing managers who were able to answer questions about the cars and rode along with us to point out features.
I teamed up with Ana from Finding Bonggamom to test-drive the new Prius V. We happen to own a first-generation Prius, so it was fun to see how far the Prius brand had come in the eleven years since we bought ours. The Prius V is like a small station wagon, with fold-down seats and plenty of leg room. The Prius line is also totally wired, with Entune technology that allows you to connect certain smart phone apps to perform searches for movies, restaurants, and music through Bluetooth technology. Ana and I enjoyed our drive, even though we veered of the planned course a little and ended up seeing a little more of Torrance than we planned.
One of the most exciting cars we were offered to test was the Advanced Fuel-Cell Hybrid. This is the newest Toyota techology, and is truly "the car of the future", slated to arrive at dealerships in 2015. Ana and I jumped in the back seat, while Sarah from Sarah & the Goon Squad drove, with Elena from Ciao Mom riding shotgun. We dubbed it the Starship Enterprise, since none of us could figure out exactly what a hydrogen-fuel cell would do. We joked that we were going to make a run for the Sprinkles Cupcakes in Beverly Hills, but decided against it, since we were in a prototype car that probably cost about $1 million to make. Plus, if we ran out of gas, we would have no clue where or how to fill up a hydrogen fuel cell. We decided to forego the cupcakes and give someone else a chance to drive it.
Some of the TWIN women were well-prepared for the test drive and managed to try out just about every car there. I only tested out two of them, and was more interested in riding and taking pictures than driving. I'm not comfortable in new cars until I've had a chance to figure out what all the dials and knobs are for, so I don't accidentally deploy the airbags when I'm trying to turn on the wipers. I was very happy to ride along and note all the features.
Christen from Divas and Dorks had on a gorgeous red outfit and some high-heeled platforms that went great with the cherry-red Camry. It's as if she planned her outfit to match the car, something we can all aspire to. Every woman knows that a car makes a great accessory.
After the ride and drive, we listened to panel discussions on Toyota's commitment to diversity and the environment. The panels featured an array of impressive women executives and associates who were all dedicated to Toyota's mission. They made Toyota sound like a really great place to work. One of the things that impressed me most about our visit to Toyota's National Headquarters was the commitment and dedication that all the people we met had to the company. Many had been at Toyota for over twenty years or had parents who had worked at Toyota, and were extremely loyal to the company. Toyota's focus on teamwork and respect for people shines through all of their employees and the quality of the products they produce.
We later visited the Toyota Museum (more on that later) and had a chance to give feedback to the Toyota Marketing Team on our experience at TWIN Camp.
We currently own a first-generation Prius and a Lexus RX300, both of which have been great cars for our family. It didn't take much to sell me on the quality of the brand, but I walked away from this experience with a great deal more respect for the company and the people who make the cars. I really appreciated the opportunity to have an inside look at Toyota and their commitment to quality, people, and community.
My rating for TWIN Camp? A+
Disclosure: I was selected for participation in the TWIN community through a program with Clever Girls Collective. I did not receive any compensation for writing this post, or payment in exchange for participating. The opinions expressed herein are mine, and do not reflect the views of Toyota.
Photo Credits: All photos are © Glennia Campbell 2012.