The progress of new technologies and growing environmental concerns of customers stimulates leading companies to implement widely environmentally friendly technologies. In this respect, auto manufacturers are particularly influenced by the trend to introduce new, hybrid, environmentally friendly vehicles, because conventional vehicles are major pollutants of the environment. As a result, leading companies, Toyota and Daimler Chrysler launched the production of hybrid vehicles, Toyota Prius and Dodge Sprinter, respectively, to meet the needs and wants of customers. They oriented on different segments of the market since Toyota Prius is oriented on the middle class families, while Dodge Sprinter is oriented on middle business class since it is a van that can be used for transportation of goods and equipment. Both vehicles have good perspectives to take the leading position in their niche of the market.
The growing environmental concerns of consumers stimulated the emergence of the production of environmentally friendly cars, using renewable or alternative sources of energy, instead of conventional fossil fuels, polluting atmosphere and contributing to the progress of greenhouse effect (Stark, 1994:6). In this respect, leading auto manufacturers, such as Toyota and DaimlerChrysler AG, focused on the development and production of vehicles that are environmentally friendly and these vehicles are known as hybrid vehicles. To put it more precisely, Toyota has launched the production of Toyota Prius, which is mainly oriented on European and partially American markets, while DaimlerChrysler launched the production of PHEV version of Dodge Sprinter, which is mainly oriented on American customers. Toyota is one of the leading car manufacturers (Yasuda, 1991:196). In the late 1990s the company focused on the development of new type of cars that were defined as hybrid cars, which were environmentally friendly and did not produce such a harmful effect on the environment as conventional cars do. In this respect, Toyota Prius was the flagman hybrid car which was created by Toyota and which was the first mass-produced hybrid car (Dessler, 2004:211). Basically, this was one of the major strategic advantages the new product of Toyota counted for in order to gain the large share of its segment of the market. It should be pointed out that the development of such a car was just a part of the general process of the introduction of the new car in the market. While introducing the new model, Toyota had to take into consideration peculiarities of specific markets and possible challenges and problems the new product could encounter there. In such a situation, DaimlerChrysler was forced to develop its own project of a hybrid vehicle that led to the production of PHEV (Plug-in Hybrid Electronic Vehicle) version of Dodge Sprinter in the early 2000s (Schmitt and Simonson, 1997:112).
Needs and wants
Basically, Toyota Prius is a really unique car because it is the mass-produced hybrid car and naturally, having such a unique characteristic, the car should target at the gaining a larger share of the market. At the same time, it is necessary to understand that the introduction of the new car in the market will lead to the counteraction from the part of the major rivals and competitors that will make the process of entering of the market a bit problematic. This is why the major market objective for one year is to gain about 20% of the market share in its segment in order to get a solid basis for the further development (Rothenberg et al, 1992-93:8). Also, it is necessary to focus on the promotion of the car and make the model, Toyota Prius recognizable. It is very important to create a positive image of the car among customers that should be one of the priorities for the company. At the same time, the introduction of the car should be accompanied by the improvement of the existing service centers in order to make the able to work with this specific model, which is apparently different from conventional cars (Gomory, 2002:195). In other words, it is necessary to improve the quality of service of the company. Furthermore, it is also very important to develop the network of the distribution of Toyota Prius. This means that it is necessary to assess and define the most effective way of the distribution of this model.
Also, one of the priorities of the company should remain the focus on the customer satisfaction, which is very important in the current situation because it produces a positive impact on the preferences of customers, the popularity of the car and brand at large (Blanchard & Bowles, 1993:122). At the same time, it is possible to achieve the shift in the perception of customers of Toyota and position the company as a new brand, the brand of new types of cars, which are environmentally friendly and are available to the mass consumers (Trisoglio, 1993:122). In such a way, the company should attempt to position itself as a company that takes of human environment and attempts to decrease the air pollution and negative impact of cars and traffic on the environment (Brown, 2003:249). Such a shift obviously implies the necessity of the change in customers perception of Toyota as well as of the surrounding world. To put it more precisely, it is necessary to make them conscious of the importance to protect the environment and, in this regard, Toyota Prius may be viewed as a perfect car that meets the highest environmental demands of the present epoch and, what is more, Toyota Prius may be viewed as a car of the future because of it is the unique hybrid car which uses new technologies which decrease the threat to the environment (Peters, 2002: 219). Anyway, customers should be aware that using Toyota Prius means improving their environment or decreasing the negative impact of their cars on the environment in which they actually live.
Unlike Toyota Prius, Dodge Sprinter is a van and, therefore, the vehicle is supposed to meet absolutely different needs of customers compared to Toyota Prius. Basically, Dodge Sprinter is a van that may be used for the transportation of goods and equipment. In such a way, DaimlerChrysler AG, attempted to find its own niche in the market of hybrid, environmentally friendly vehicles, as the demand on such vehicles has grown steadily since the late 1990s-early 2000s (Sanna, 2005:9).
Basically, both Toyota and DaimlerChrysler AG were motivated by the growing environmental concerns of customers that forced them to look for the creation of alternative hybrid vehicles (Sarkis, 1995:88). The mass production of such vehicles gives both companies leadership in their segments of the market.
Attitudes/Preferences and social class
Basically, Toyota Prius is oriented on major markets in Europe, such as the UK, Sweden and Greece, and America, especially the USA (Gitlow, 1997:89). The car should be destined to the mass customers living in these three countries. These markets are quite convenient for the introduction of Toyota Prius because of the high environmental standards and the existing automobile market potential. It should be pointed out that for all of these countries environmental characteristics are of the paramount importance and naturally Toyota Prius could meet the expectations of customers (Benfari, 1999:219). In fact, such countries as the UK, for instance, as well as Sweden has its own car manufacturers but it does not necessarily mean that the new car cannot be introduced (Wilkins, 1999:194). In stark contrast, Toyota Prius should target at the mass customers in this country, mainly representatives of the middle and even lower-middle class who could afford an environmentally friendly car and, at the same time, save costs due to the low fuel consumption.
At the same time, the company should hardly target at the young people as the potential customers of Toyota Prius.
In fact, the company should mainly focus on the middle or lower-middle class people that have a family and children, who need a good, reliable, environmentally friendly and large car. In this respect, it should be said that Toyota Prius is the largest hatchback produced by Toyota (Mohrman, 1998:174). This is why such a choice of the target group of customers is quite logical. As for the gender of the main consumers of this product, it actually does not really matter because the car could be acquire by both male and females (Wilkins, 1999:201). Also, it is possible to attempt to focus on the upper-middle class customers or even class customers and propose this car as a second car in the family since it is quite convenient and comfortable for trips of the entire family and the car has enough space to place the essential objects that may be useful during a typical family trip.
In addition, the car could target at customers who are concerned on the problem of environmental protection and this category of customers is quite indefinite because it cannot be classified in accordance with the level of income of social status (Howard, 2000:341). Though it is possible to presuppose that, in all probability, low income families would not afford the acquisition of such a car, but potentially, the acquisition of such a car would be probably the best choice even for the low-income families.
Dodge Sprinter basically targets at the middle class customers, though it is not a car for a family use, but it is a business car that is supposed to be used by companies that need vans for the transportation of goods and equipment (Volti, 2005:172). The vehicle is basically created for American market, especially the USA. DaimlerChrysler AG counts for filling the niche of the market of environmentally friendly vans, though, at the moment, the price of Dodge Sprinter is higher compared to conventional vehicles (Khor, 2001:177). On the other hand, the limitations of emissions of CO2 by vehicles create good opportunities for Dodge Sprinter to gain a larger share of the market (Farrell, 2006:506).
Thus, taking into consideration the growing demand for environmentally friendly vehicles both Toyota Prius and Dodge Sprinter have good perspectives on the market. Moreover, they occupy different niches in the market and do not intersect as direct competitors. Consequently, it is possible to estimate that both vehicles can take leading positions in their niche of the market.