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Steering into Tokyo's Cultural Hotspots

April 2010

By Julia Barnes and Clint Taniguchi, Tokyo

Automakers are still licking their wounds from last year’s biggest decline in sales since 1976. However, this year they are already making a strong comeback seeing sales increase in both new automobiles and trucks in Japan. Brands have been doing whatever they can to attract people into their showrooms. The showrooms of today are no longer just debuting cars but also becoming hotspots for social and cultural experiences offered by select brands such as Audi, Fiat and Volkswagen.

Audi Forum Tokyo, the carmaker's iconic iceberg building situated in hip Harajuku, has made its name known amongst sophisticated art-lovers by hosting regular contemporary art exhibitions. A recent exhibition included a collaboration with Japan’s most prominent artist, Yayoi Kusama. Kusama celebrated Audi’s 100th Anniversary by creating a special piece for the commemorative exhibition. Adapting her famed dots in red and white (auspicious, celebratory colors in Japanese tradition), she covered the entire installation space and the white Audi R8 within.

In addition to the ongoing exhibitions and other cultural events, the Audi Café serves complimentary drinks with the request that visitors fill out a survey in return for their hospitality. For the upcoming exhibitions, Audi Aboriginal Art: "Ingalimpa Tjuntu" in April 2010, the press release asks, "What would bring the new hi-tech Audi navigational system side by side with the ancient Aboriginal Australia Tjukurpa country mapping system??? Why art of course!"

The Fiat Caffé is situated on Aoyama Dori near the Imperial Palace. Tokyo resident Elizabeth Hildebrand holds regular, spectacularly themed parties in the basement of Fiat’s Tokyo headquarters. This rental space is cozy in size and flaunts an excellent sound system. Its central location makes it an ideal place for her to bring friends and acquaintances together. This Italian carmaker opened its space with the hopes of fusing fashion and automobiles, accompanied by a menu with "real" Italian food, art and music. Its slogan, "We are offering quality modern culture for adults" says it all.

The ground floor of the facility resembles a small art gallery with monthly rotating exhibitions. The publicity material states, "the car exhibited is intended to look like a sculpture, an object or even an oil painting." Fiat hopes that everyday people will be able to appreciate the concept of a café as the perfect meeting place to enjoy the latest in world-class Italian culture.

Following the hot new trend in pop-up shops, Volkswagen created a "pop-up ice skating rink" on the lawn adjacent to Roppongi’s high-end shopping centre, Tokyo Midtown. The grand-scale outdoor ice skating rink accommodated up to 200 people at any given time and was the classic winter outing for the family.

Running every day for 55 days, the concept was to promote new technologies such as environmentally-friendly cooling equipment like alternative skating rink materials that don’t require ice. Ticket sale proceeds were donated by Volkswagen to the charitable organization Polar Bears International to help protect polar bears’ natural environment.

Automakers today are becoming more accessible to the masses by reaching out and offering cultural, social and quality experiences. By redefining the function of the showroom, brands have become more than just automobiles extending into our daily life offering coffee, art, events and full meals.


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