TOKYO — Toyota will continue its low-profile approach to Olympic sponsorship during this month’s Winter Games in Beijing, despite splurging to be the exclusive mobility provider to the international sporting events.
All told, the world’s biggest automaker will provide some 2,200 vehicles for the Beijing Olympiad, to shuttle around athletes, coaching staff, officials and VIPs, a company spokeswoman said.
But Toyota’s fleet consists mainly of hum-drum nameplates such as the Avalon and Camry sedans and Sienna minivan — though it also boasts plenty of hybrid and fuel cell models, such as the Mirai.
Missing will be the flights of futuristic vehicular fantasy that Toyota deployed at last summer’s Olympic Games in Tokyo. Those included such hardware as the e-Palette automated people mover, the all-electric LQ pod car or the clutch of robots Toyota had working the stadiums.
Also missing is Toyota’s pint-sized “field support robot” that won notoriety on TV broadcasts as the robotic retriever of objects in such Olympic events as the javelin, discus and hammer.
Toyota Motor Corp. will also forgo any global advertising tie-ins.
Toyota will be doing local marketing activities in China linked to the Winter Olympics, which run through Feb. 20. But overseas campaigns will be handled case-by-case, spokeswoman Shiori Hashimoto said. “It is up to each region to decide if they want to run a local campaign,” she said.
Toyota’s toned-down Olympics follow a subdued Tokyo Games, where the automaker canceled marketing and media events because of the pall cast by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Beyond the still-raging pandemic, the Beijing Games brings extra headaches for a sponsor. That is because of new international scrutiny of China in the wake of protests and boycotts concerning its human rights record, particularly its treatment of the Uyghur minority in its western Xinjiang region.
The U.S. government is conducting a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Games, and the U.S. State Department has labeled China’s treatment of the predominantly Muslim group as genocide.
So-called “Olympic Top Sponsors,” including Toyota, Panasonic, Coca Cola and Procter & Gamble, have stayed mostly mum about the human rights controversy in the run-up to the Games.
Toyota said its goal was never to advertise around the Games but to promote the company’s sponsored global athletes, through such outreach as a special website that tracks their journey.
“We would like to refrain from commenting on the political issues,” Hashimoto said.
Like every other automaker, Toyota can ill afford to cross the Chinese government.
The Japanese automaker’s China sales rose 8.2 percent to 1.9 million vehicles in 2021, not far behind the 10 percent increase it booked in the U.S. to 2.3 million vehicles. China is Toyota’s second-biggest market. And the automaker is the third-biggest there behind leader Volkswagen Group and No. 2 General Motors. Toyota has an 8 percent market share in China.
As for all the technical wonders that Toyota touted in Tokyo but will skip for Beijing, the company said that is because the gadgetry depends on the local traffic, infrastructure and regulatory environment.
In Beijing, Toyota will have its automated e-Palette on display, but not driving the streets. The futuristic vehicle, which shuttled people in a loop around the athlete village, caused the automaker an embarrassment at the Tokyo event when it collided with a visually impaired judoka crossing an intersection.
And instead of having its futuristic wedge-shaped LQ battery-powered car lead the torch relay in China, Toyota has deployed as the escort car a prototype of the bZ4X all-electric crossover coming to market soon.
Toyota plunked down a reported $835 million in 2015 to become the Olympic Games’ first ever top sponsor in mobility, signing a 10-year contract that runs through 2024.
It encompassed the 2020 summer Olympics in Tokyo, but Toyota missed out on some of the expected marketing magic when those Games were pushed off until 2021 by the COVID-19 pandemic and then scaled back to bar virtually all in-person spectators.