Will Toyota’s Honesty Be Rewarded?

For several years, car manufacturers have been proactively marketing sales of used vehicles with ads touting “certified pre-owned vehicles.”

These are used cars that have been thoroughly inspected and come with a warranty equivalent (or close to it) to that of a new car.

I heard a radio commercial today for Toyota, who has jumped into this market.

But instead of calling their used car a “pre-owned vehicle” … they call it a “used car”!

Now I admire plain-speaking people and honest, forthright language … and “used car” fits that bill better than “pre-owned vehicle.”

On the other hand, there’s a reason Mont Blanc sells “writing instruments” — and the reason is, no one wants to pay $100 for a “pen.”

So what do you think?

Will Toyota’s honesty be rewarded by consumers with more sales?

Or are they shooting themselves in the foot by not advertising “pre-owned vehicles”?


194 thoughts on “Will Toyota’s Honesty Be Rewarded?

  • I hope Totoya will be rewarded.
    ‘Cause “pre-owned” always sounded like a put-on.

    (Good for you if you can get out of Mont Blanc for $100. I have my eye on a $300 pen of theirs – no matter what Mont Blanc may say in their ads, my clients & pals would laugh right at me if I called it a “writing instrument.”)

  • If Toyota was a car manufacturer with a poor track record…honesty would probably hurt ’em. However, Toyota has an excellent name/brank and folks would expect ’em to be honest. If honesty hurts…so be it.


  • Toyota’s name is synonymous with quality. They could call them certified run-downs and I think they still would sell okay…not great, but okay. By avoiding the semantics, Toyota will excel.


  • BTW, we bought a new Toyota Sienna about a year ago and are absolutely delighted with it. Best feature: separate temperature controls for driver and passenger side of front seat (my wife likes it warm, and I like it cold).

  • I suspect it will hurt them a little. People are fickle, and I don’t think anyone likes the term “used”. If it does hurt them, it’s a shame — I’ve become a fan of Toyota vehicles. We are planning to buy a Sienna too for our next vehicle!

  • I think the term “certified-preowned” works well for their Lexus division, which reinforces the image of distinction and luxury. It doesn’t work for the Toyota division.

    It’s akin to promoting sushi for the Joe LunchPail set among blue collar workers. No matter what its called, they still look at it as raw fish.

  • I tend to agree with Michael Roach… it may hurt them a little bit.

    When I hear “used car” I instantly see a used car salesman in my mind.

    I know, I know… Toyota’s are great cars. I love them (just drove back to Cincinnati from Gatlinburg, TN in my girlfriend’s 2006 Corolla).

    But people are fickle.

    And I’m sure I’m not the only person who has a picture in my mind of Gus, the slick-backed, greasy haired local used car salesman shouting at you from the tube about the years’ greatest deals ending soon.

  • Since we copywriters are really peddlers though we call ourselves copywriters, I tend to stand on the side of pre-owned or certified-pre-owned or pre-loved much as I prefer we are called copywriters or sales writers. (I prefer the latter to the former.)

    I have long called my beloved Parker 51 my writing instrument and I prefer to call a fine automobile a motor car. And Roseanne didn’t do too badly referring to herself as a domestic goddess.

    I’m a firm believer that people respond to words and that you can make anything sound far better than it is or far more appealing than it is. Of course, much depends on your audience.

    I wouldn’t go to the local bar and ask the bartender for a writing instrument. But in the privacy of my home or office I am loathe to call my fine writing instrument a pen. In fact, anything I happen to write with is an instrument. At least that’s what I’d have the world believe.

    I am all for using this type of language in advertising. A good sales writer can massage words until they have magic. Once they have magic they sell.

    But what do I know. I’m just a peddler.

  • I’ve always wondered about the teminology “certified pre-owned.” To me it’s like saying “sure we’ll certify that, that car has had a previous owner.” Frankly I would be more impressed if they simply said it was used – but then told me all the things they had done to make sure I would not get a lemon. I hope it works for Toyota (My ’91 Camry has 273,000 miles and keep on chugging – and I will personally certify it as pre-owned if anyone wants it.)

  • I believe this is a good move for Toyota. But perhaps only Toyota.

    I say that because Toyota has earned itself a good spot.

    1. Their products have better met the needs of the American market than much of the competition.

    2. According to Interbrand they are the seventh strongest brand in the world.

    3. Points 1 & 2 dull the sharpness of the word ‘Used’ when it comes to Toyota branded products.

    So, Toyota can call it what it is and still move cars. Not to mention the fact that functionality in naming works especially well here as consumers looking for ‘used cars’ use the search term ‘used cars’.

    All hail the power of a strong brand.

  • I think Toyota is trying to shoot the consumer in the foot by directly telling consumers “hey, we’re like you too, you know”. I think it’s part of their overall strategic campaign to be #1 in the world market. “Used” should appeal to the common folks and they won’t feel like someone is trying to get over them.

    For example, look at the no no nonsense results of the new Hybrid cars—the leader Camry is cheaper with a smaller engine and better gas mileage than the Honda competitor and rightfully so—sales are higher—it’s created mass appeal. I think the used market of Toyota cars will do just as well. Simple approaches, fantastic results.

    While the theme of “certified pre-own” seeks to impress, what’s in the mind of consumers is simply “used”. The opposite is true—a cleaver tactic gone astray.


  • I think Toyota has a good enough reputation that the Pre-Certified title carries more weight than with other dealerships. I’ve had good luck with a couple used Toyota’s purchased as pre-certified. Can’t complain and would certainly recommend but other dealers may be just as good.

  • Toyota does have a good rep BUT I bought my son a certified Celica with 44K miles on it, and it was the worst car I’ve bought EVER. Bought it so that my son could enjoy a long reliable life from the car. This “Certified Product”

    – Burned oil at a rate of a quart every 1800 miles (Toyota would only do something if it burned oil at a quart every 1200)
    – After buying the car 19 days before the “7 year/100K Warranty” (it was 6 year/100K prior to 10/1/05), the 5 speed manual died (never heard of that in any Toyota). Cost me $3800 to replace the five speed. The car had 83K on it, and Toyota wouldn’t cover it.

    I’me done with Toyota, after buying Toyotas and Lexus’ since 1971 (nine cars in total). Manufacturing and Engineering is top notch, but they can have issues their service is horrible, and the way they treat (once) loyal customers tells me that they have become complacent. I’ll go to a dealer/company that thinks service and caring for your customer means somthing.

    Toyota Certified – I thought it meant something too, but “oh what a feeling” I got when Toyota should have done something.

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