OK, so I linked to this in the post below, but it really deserves its own post. After all, few things define the times quite as poignantly as Chrysler’s peculiar brand of insanity. See, the problem with the psychology of recession is that it causes inordinate self-doubt among panicked executives and their long-suffering staffs. Which, if you’re Chrysler, might be a good thing. Except that for some reason, the principles of reflection and continuous improvement always take a back seat to some brainiac who thinks that the problem is that the firms products aren’t exactly like iPods. At Chrysler, this brainiac is named Peter Arnell. In an interview with AdWeek, Chrysler’s “Chief Innovation Officer” lives up to his cliched title by spewing the most ridiculous twaddle about his pet project, the Chrysler PeaPod. For those who don’t know, the PeaPod is a GEM Low Speed (Neighborhood Electric) Vehicle (LSV/NEV). This means that the PeaPod is limited to 25 mph and is barred from thoroughfares with speed limits of higher than 35 mph. In other words, it’s useless. Unless you live on a golf course or in a gated retirement community. But the way Arnell tells it, the PeaPod is just a Wired Magazine cover away from becoming the next Apple killer app.
“The idea is it’s a lightweight vehicle with a top speed of 25 mph. Ninety percent core city driving previously was made by conventional cars or SUVs, and the idea is to replace that activity with low-speed vehicles. The Peapod [NEV’s] travel range is 30 miles and it has a strong payload, over 900 pounds. It has rack and pinion steering, front-wheel drive, runs off 72-volt batteries, has an on board charger and gives off zero emissions. And at $12,500, it makes for a great second car,” reckons Arnell. Because in this economy, you can’t afford not to have a second car. But it gets worse.
“You know how the Beetle was the vehicle of choice for the whole ’60s, the hippie revolution and everything? We’re hoping that this becomes the new wave car for the younger set as well as addressing mom and her needs with her kids. It has a lot of talk value and appeal. It’s giving a new language to vehicle design,” says Arnell. “It’s got a really jovial, happy-spirited look. It has a good attitude.” “New wave car for the younger set?” What is this, 1963? “Talk value?” Please. Just because there’s no Chrysler co-branding and you are “launching” PeaPod Mobility on Earth Day doesn’t mean “the younger set” is going to drop $12k on a glorified golf cart.
“Because of the power of the program, we’ve decided to [brand the category]. You know how in the old days they came up with SUV as a classification? We’ve come up with the word ‘mobi’ because this category is not known to most people.
“Between the new administration, the economy, the concerns on global warming and the general attitude about the automotive industry and the need to innovate, this was one of the core assignments given to me by [Chrysler CEO] Bob Nardelli and [vice chairman] Tom LaSorda. The idea was to hold a mirror up to consumers’ needs and desires and rethink the role a vehicle plays in one’s life.
“Where you saw Smart [Car], it implied ecology or efficiency in gas consumption, but it still remained a regular car. The idea here was to move beyond that.”
By selling something that isn’t a regular car? If there’s a better example of branding run amok in the automotive world, I’m not aware of it. Either way, be ready to watch PeaPod Mobility go the way of Napster sometime shortly after Earth Day.