Archive for May, 2009

Where have all the great automotive brands gone?

Friday, May 15th, 2009

classic-highlights.Par.0020.Image

As an industry we’ve lost sight of our great brands.  In some cases companies have gone bankrupt or been acquired and a brand disappeared, in others a world war got in the way.  Studebaker, Cord, Horch, MG, Triumph and countless others have evaporated for a variety of reasons.

Today, as Detroit goes through an unprecedented upheaval, there will be more brands lost.  Saturn, a once very special brand, will go away.  So will Pontiac and Hummer.  We can only wonder what will happen to brands like Jeep.  Brands that stood for something, had a point of view, and marketed products that reflected a certain perspective.  Brands that developed a loyal following because they stood for something!  They weren’t for everybody, and that was OK.

As discouraging as it is to see a great brand go away because of a structural change in a company, it’s worse to see brands die of neglect by the very people charged with protecting and building them.  Over the last 20 years we have watched a number of great automotive brands that automotive marketers worked very hard to create, begin to whither away.  The aforementioned Jeep is one, Volvo another.  Mercedes Benz, Jaguar, Land Rover, SAAB,  Lexus and even mighty BMW feel somehow “less” than they did even ten years ago.

What’s happened?  Expansion happened.  Chasing volume happened.  Brands that meant something specific and clear found themselves needing to be “more.”

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Why aren’t we talking about diesel?

Wednesday, May 13th, 2009

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Amid all the blather from Washington about hybrids, plug-in electrics and other green technologies is an engine technology that is clean, fully developed and ready to make a difference…clean diesel.  For the life of me, I can’t understand why we are not having a more meaningful conversation in our country about the advantages of clean diesel.

Actually, I do understand.  Diesel is a much misunderstood technology in America.  We all remember those diesel Rabbits with black stuff all over the hatchback and a steady stream of vile smoke out the back.  Mercedes Benz has been marketing diesels in this country for decades and there are still many smoky, noisy 300D’s on our roads today.  Unfortunately this image is the impression most Americans have of diesel technology.  Diesels are dirty, slow, noisy pollution machines.

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Will the BMW brand lose its focus too?

Thursday, May 7th, 2009

Tii front threequarters offside

This article in today’s New York Times got me thinking about BMW and its brand:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/07/business/global/07iht-bmw.html?pagewanted=2&partner=rss&emc=rss

I think that just about anyone could argue pretty convincingly that of all the imported luxury marques, BMW has done the best job of sticking to its positioning over the long term.  Encapsulated by “The Ultimate Driving Machine,”  BMW has year after year developed and sold products that live up to this brand standard.  The marketing has also been remarkably consistent in supporting the brand positioning.

So it was encouraging to read in the NY Times that BMW is serious about maintaining its independence and at some level is rejecting the industry’s argument that “scale” is critical to success.  What a crime it would be if BMW ended up married to someone else, sharing parts and technologies and the products became less distinct.  I hope the same applies to their view of their brand positioning and marketing.

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