By on November 24, 2009

The pioneering exercise in auto branding (

The Saab deal’s death today marked the third attempted brand sale by GM to go down in flames since exiting bankruptcy. Whether the decision not to sell Opel was a good one remains to be seen (big time!), but at Saturn’s Spring Hill, Tennessee plant, which goes on standby this week, there’s less ambiguity about the situation. Meanwhile, Wild-Ass Rumors that Brilliance will rescue the Saturn brand have been chased by MSM scaremongering about a Chinese-owned GM, lending special irony to the fact that GM’s only brand-divestment success is the $150m Hummer-to-Tengzhong deal which is still pending approval by the Chinese government. Volvo nearly found a home in the Middle Kingdom with Geely, but things are crumbling and new bids are expected. Which means all of Detroit’s orphaned brands are still up in the air, at best. Long-term worries about the strength of the US market may be to blame, although the advanced state of the Hummer deal works against that theory (as Hummer’s viability lives and dies in the US market). Maybe the Chinese mandate for auto sector consolidation has potential Chinese buyers focusing on shoring up their domestic status. Or maybe the Chinese realize that brand equity must be earned, not bought. That appears to be the lesson to be learned from the rise of Hyundai and Kia. Fueled by mainstream design a true compact-to-luxury product range, and a relentless focus on product, they may well herald a decline in the importance of brand strategy. For an industry that practically invented the idea of selling a product without actually mentioning the product, this could be an interesting adjustment.

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24 Comments on “The Island Of Lost Brands...”

  • avatar

    Spring Hill, Tennessee. right?

  • avatar

    “this could be an interesting adjustment” – and understatement of the week award goes to….

  • avatar

    Spring Hill, Tennessee, no?

  • avatar

    I think the Chinese automakers are focused on domestic-market growth and consolidation.  American and Swedish brand adventures are sideshows.

  • avatar

    Yes, Tennessee. Of course. Text amended.

  • avatar

    It’s almost as if there are too many brands and overcapacity in the industry.  Of course that can’t be true.  The only logical reason that I bailed out GM and Chrysler would be that losing those companies would have resulted in a SEVERE shortage of vehicles which would have caused the economy to collapse.  Since we are near full employment and the factories have been running 24×7 to keep up with demand, running out of trucks and cars that keep the nation rolling would have been unacceptable.
    Can you sense the sarcasm?

  • avatar
    John Horner

    Nice choice picking that Jordan ad. It is famous for being perhaps the first to associate a car with a certain kind of a personality rather than simply listing features and benefits. This was the full text: “SOMEWHERE west of Laramie there’s a bronco-busting, steer roping girl who knows what I’m talking about. She can tell what a sassy pony, that’s a cross between greased lighting and the place where it hits, can do with eleven hundred pounds of steel and action when he’s going high, wide and handsome. The truth is – the Playboy was built for her. Built for the lass whose, face is brown with the sun when the day is done of revel and romp and race. She loves the cross of the wild and the tame. There’s a savor of links about that car – of laughter and lilt and light – a hint of old loves – and saddle and quirt. It’s a brawny thing – yet a graceful thing for the sweep o’ the Avenue. Step into the Playboy when the hour grows dull with things gone dead and stale. Then start for the land of real living with the spirit of the lass who rides, lean and rangy, into the red horizon of a Wyoming twilight.”
    The Jordan car company faded to black in the early 1930s when the Great Depression trigger a Great Extinction of companies.

  • avatar

    I forgot about the Penske fiasco.

  • avatar

    What most people don’t realize about that Jordan ad is that the Jordan was what was called back in the twenties an “assembled car”.  AKA, a car that was almost completely built by parts sold from outside suppliers.  If memory serves me, it used a Continental engine, the transmission and rear end were bought in, the body may have been designed by Jordan (well, as far as design went back then – remember that the 1928 LaSalle was the first car actually styled, and began Harley Earl’s career) but was stamped out somewhere else.  I think it was by Budd, but can’t remember where I read that.
    The assembled car phenomenon was how the majority of minor marques created their cars back in the twenties – your plant was only there for final assembly of the pieces, you didn’t actually create any part of the car.  And by 1933, 100% of the assembled car marques had failed due to the Depression.  Obviously, buying all your components from the outside was a more expensive way to do things, and then the Big Three (yes, GM, Ford and Chrysler by 1932) plus all the major independents (Packard, Studebaker, Hudson, Nash, Graham, Auburn/Cord/Dusenberg) started cutting prices to keep business going, well, that was it for the assembled car.
    The Jordan – an incredibly ordinary car with one hell of an image.

  • avatar

    The Hummer deal isn’t waiting for government approval. The government is waiting for something to approve. When, at long last, an application had been handed in, it omitted a detail: what exactly will be bought. Chinese government told Tengzhong to do it again, Sam, and to specify what they are applying for to buy. Last I heard, the government is still waiting.
    Sound familiar?

  • avatar

    It basically comes down to this: If GM, again and again, cannot sell its unloved brands, what can they sell?

  • avatar

    This is further proof that these brands need to die.  If they truly had brand equity, somebody would buy them.  So all these potential buyers aren’t as dumb as they look.

    You can’t just sell off bad assets and expect to get real money for them.  In other words, the market is functioning as it should.

    I still hold out hope that Hummer has some value as a very unique niche brand.

  • avatar

    Speaking of lost brands, shouldn’t this list be updated with two recent entries?
    Actually, the length is quite amazing.

  • avatar

    Not sure I agree with the idea that Hyundai/Kia are building cars w/o a brand identity, nor the idea that brand strategy will be unimportant in the future.

    H/K, as far as I can tell, are building the same brand Toyota/Honda have built.   Reliability and good value for money.   It’s going to be a crowded field.
    Highly reliable products will simply be the minimum requirement to stay in the market.   Aside from price, what differentiates Toyota/Honda/Hyundai?   If price is the only differentiation, then price will be the only criterion on which to make a decission.
    I suspect brand strategy will become even more important, at least to those players still in the market.

    • 0 avatar

      Some good thoughts Dynamic.  I suspect the result will be less of the “fall of Toyota”, that some predict, than of these two crushing everything in their path as they duke it out.


  • avatar

    So yeah I was forced to look up Cloche Hat

  • avatar

    That is a classic ad, long held as a standard in advertising. It would be nice to see the same sort of romance injected to some of these sterile and obnoxious campaigns being used today. [“Zoom Zoom” anyone ? “I’m Lovin It” ? “The New Class Of World Class” ? Now that is terrible copy].

    Perfect ad: the Jaguar from the mid 90s with Etta James in the background singing “At Last”. That pretty much said everything about Jaguar’s mystique.

    Or even Cadillac’s ad with a 59 a new Cadillac passing each other in opposite directions and the tag line: “It’s not what’s new, it’s what’s next” is better than “Life Liberty & The Pursuit”.

    The Jordan ad is epic poetry in a Twitter  and texting world.

  • avatar

    For those wondering what the Jordan Playboy actually looked like:
    Warning: do not use Google Image Search to try and find pictures of “Jordan Playboy.” It brings up a whole lot of NSFW pictures for some unknown reason, hehehe.

  • avatar

    The first time I saw the Jordan ad was in the basement of the Case Western Reserve Transportation museum in Cleveland (a great museum, btw, with some very nice rare cars).  I think it was over a Jordan but it’s been a few years.  Anyway, go visit the museum.

  • avatar

    I had never heard of Jordan before.  Interesting piece of trivia.

    SAAB?  What’s the value of their real estate and the scrap value of their machinery, net of all liabilities?  I will give you that less 20%.

  • avatar

    Keep in mind that during the Roaring 20’s, there were at least 50 different brands of automobiles for sale in the US – and by that, I’m thinking only of the ones that actually had a real factory, a production line, and were putting out cars in at least three digit figures per year (other than Ford and GM, five digit annual production was major league).  All but about ten brands were dead by 1936, most of them were effectively gone about five years before that.
    The US auto market in the 1920’s was very much like the Chinese auto market today.

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