The space shuttle Endeavour. Brought to you by Toyota?
Next week, when NASA's recently retired shuttle makes the last leg of its long journey from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to the California Science Center in Exposition Park, it will be hauled part of the way by a Toyota Tundra truck.
It's a scene that seems made for a Toyota commercial. And it may well end up in one.
The carmaker plans to film the truck as it tows the massive shuttle across the 405 Freeway on West Manchester Boulevard.
One Toyota official said the event is "a great opportunity for Tundra and the Toyota brand." Jaymie Robinson, a public relations strategist for Toyota, said the company is looking at all of its marketing options, "a commercial being one of them."
Ads touting the hauling capacity of trucks have long been a staple of the pickup market, where ruggedness and power are glorified.
"In the pickup truck segment, the towing wars are never over," said Eric Noble, president of an automobile consulting firm in Orange. He commended Toyota "for pulling something like this off."
The shuttle, which went to space 25 times over two decades, has been at LAX since it arrived 12 days ago on the back of a modified Boeing 747. It will be hauled for most of its two-day trek to the Science Center by a state-of-the-art robotic transporter used to carry very heavy things.
But the transporter is not on the Caltrans list of vehicles approved for towing over bridges, according to William Harris, senior vice president of development and marketing at the Science Center.
Harris said Toyota, which has a long history of philanthropy at the Science Center, volunteered a Tundra for the overpass portion of the route. A special dolly will be used to help the truck haul the roughly 170,000-pound shuttle.
Officials with the city of Los Angeles, which is helping coordinate the trip, said they were only recently made aware of the possible filming of a commercial. An official with FilmLA, which issues film permits, said it was contacted by the production company that will be filming the event and expects to receive a permit application in the coming days.
Toyota is not paying the Science Center to shoot a commercial, according to Michael Rouse, Toyota's vice president of diversity, philanthropy and community affairs.
But he said the car company has donated $8 million to $10 million to the Science Center since the early 1990s and has contributed "seven figures" to the museum's current expansion efforts, which include building an exhibit space for the Endeavour.
In sales, Tundras lag far behind competitors like Ford's F-series trucks and Chevrolet's Silverados.
Seeking to correct that, Toyota has made next week's affair a major marketing event, with a special Tundra Endeavour website devoted to the truck as it "tows its way into history."
When it has been relieved of its load, the Tundra used to haul the space shuttle will be displayed inside the museum.
Times staff writer Jerry Hirsch contributed to this report.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times