The Truth About Cars » Marketing The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Tue, 29 Jul 2014 17:28:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Marketing Editorial: Tesla is What Scion Should Have Been Tue, 08 Jul 2014 14:52:13 +0000 photo_tenant_tesla


It’s not an exceptionally large showroom, but the façade is enormous. The Tesla retail store in Columbus, Ohio wraps around an entire corner of the Easton Town Center, that city’s premier upscale shopping venue. My trip to the store, the first time I’d ever set foot in a Tesla retail location, was an eye opener. Tesla’s retail model is an example of what Scion could have (and should have) been.

Tesla’s presence at Easton is inextricably interwoven with the history of American retailing. Easton is the brainchild of L Brands founder and CEO Les Wexner, who has overseen the growth of some of the country’s biggest names in retail: Victoria’s Secret, Abercrombie and Fitch, Bath and Body Works, Lane Bryant, and many others. Easton opened for business in 1999, as part of the new wave of American retail venues that appeared in the late 90s and early 00s. These were indoor-outdoor hybrids, replete with restaurants, entertainment venues, and other “lifestyle” amenities. Consumer response to these new options was strong, and today Easton is still one of the state’s most successful retail development projects.

Easton’s rise was directly linked to the decline of traditional malls. Northland, Eastland, and Westland were opened in the 60s to serve customers in and around the Columbus metro area. Of the three, only Eastland is still in operation, and it’s currently for sale. De-urbanization and the general decline of Columbus’ old neighborhoods near the city’s core hurt these malls, but they were also undermined by changing customer expectations. When Easton opened (as well as the copycat Polaris Fashion Place developed by the rival Glimcher development group), it suddenly made the indoor malls seem like relics of a bygone era. Easton had anchor department stores like Macy’s, a movie theater, some indoor small shops, and other features that traditional mall customers expected. But it also had bars, quality restaurants, a children’s park, and even a luxury grocery store. It also had a myriad number of high-end standalone retailers that were previously only to be found in exclusive locations in big cities: Lacoste, Tiffany’s, Louis Vuitton, Coach, and many others.

Eastland and the other traditional malls didn’t need these kinds of retailers to satisfy the basic demands of their traditional customers. But what the luxury brands did was give Easton a halo of respectability and posh refinement that itself was an object of consumer desire. Although there are plenty of rich people who shop at Easton, a $2500 handbag is well out of reach for most people who go to the mall. What Easton does is give the plebs the chance to rub shoulders with the moneyed set before sneaking into Macy’s to buy a $40 dress. Wexner’s decision to arrange most of the high-end stores along a single boulevard lined with metered parking was a stroke of genius. Every day the main thoroughfare is flanked by an ever-changing lineup of Benzes, BMWs, Porsches, and exotics. The other malls withered, and then crumbled. Northland Mall, just a few miles up the road, was torn down in 2004.

Now, Easton has a store that sells electric cars. It would be tempting to say that this store is unlike any that have come before it, but that isn’t really true. There’s a Model S in the middle, of course, as well as bodiless chassis buck. Otherwise, the Tesla location looks a lot like the other high-end retailers ringing Easton’s perimeter. Soothing but distinctly modern Muzak plays through the ceiling, and everything is brilliantly lit and tastefully furnished. There are a variety of slick technical displays explaining various features of the car, as well as options.

Most importantly, the walls are covered with logo merchandise of every type, shape, and description: t-shirts, coffee mugs, tin lunchboxes, baby onesies. All of this is overseen by Tesla personnel, in this case two young men. They were as fastidiously dressed and groomed as any Brooks Brothers employee, and had the manners of a really good sommelier at a high end restaurant: polite, unquestionably confident, and just easygoing enough to talk you into making a really expensive decision. Or, if you want to buy a $25 shirt, they’d be more than happy to help you with that too. What the Tesla location resembles is not so much a car dealership as the Puma store it replaced: a variety of premium branded goods, sold by handsome young people in a clean and upbeat atmosphere.

Contrast that with my last visit to a Scion daler, which was pretty representative of all the Scion dealers I’ve ever set foot in. The Scion display was in the corner of a much larger Toyota showroom, which was itself part of a large dealer group. It was constructed in the manner of virtually all large car dealers: a bunch of lots and showrooms in their own area, distinct from other retail outlets. The Scion display consisted of a single panel, which was filled with informational pamphlets. Half of these were for products that either no longer exist or are in some kind of planning limbo.

The other half were for the kind of cashback deals and financial incentives that can be found in any dealership anywhere. The only Scion in the showroom was an automatic xD, which was dusty and fingermarked. I fooled around with it for a good twenty minutes without anyone bothering me. I had a salesman on hand about thirty seconds after I started examining the new Corolla. There was some Scion logo merchandise, but it was in the parts department alongside all the overpriced windshield wiper blades and camo pattern trailer hitch covers. There was nothing that jumped out as edgy, different, or alternative. Certainly, there was nothing to make you think you were anywhere but a car dealer.

It was pretty clear that nobody much cared about the Scion side of the dealership, and why should they? People don’t come to Toyota dealers looking for Scions, they come looking for Toyotas. Scion will never be much more than a distraction for the salespeople, who are much more invested in selling Camrys, Corollas, Rav-4s and Tundras. At this point, most Scion sales are either to the limited number of enthusiasts buying FR-S’s, or people who were disappointed to find out that the Corolla doesn’t come in hatchback form anymore and decided to settle for something else instead. Scion urgently needs new product, but it also needs a complete overhaul of the buying experience. The traditional dealership format is completely inimical to accomplishing the stated goals of the Scion brand: attracting a younger clientele to Toyota products, while modifying the traditional dealer experience.

The history of retail is a stream of constant reinvention. Every generation has contributed some important innovation to the backbone of the consumer economy. Online shopping is perhaps the most relevant current example of this trend, but brick-and-mortar stores have been reinventing themselves too. Walmart wiped out many smaller grocery chains, as well as traditional department stores. But it failed to steamroller the entire grocery market because it became synonymous with lower-end retail. Publix, Target, Kroger, and other chains have hung on by offering a more pleasant shopping experience and a better selection of higher-end goods.

Similarly, Easton represents a way of reinventing retail to better serve the needs of a modern, affluent clientele. Tesla, with its direct sales model and glimmer of luxury branding, represents a perfect fit for Easton’s retail model. It’s a brick-and-mortar store, but one with a distinctly modern feel. And although its main product is out of reach for the majority of Easton’s customer base, it still offers other ways to capture some of that Tesla magic. The Tesla showroom is a constant parade of gawkers, most of whom come away distinctly impressed by what they’ve seen. This is ground zero for building a brand, and Tesla is hitting it out of the ballpark. Why can’t Toyota emulate this model for Scion?

The answer, of course, is that Toyota isn’t in any position to disrupt the market in such a way. They are firmly a part of the American automotive Establishment, just as much as any of the Big Three. Their franchise dealers are their lifeblood, and are responsible for much of their American success. Setting Scion up as a direct sales operation would have required throwing these dealers under the bus, as well as a massive legal campaign with no guarantee of success. In short, it would be an incredibly foolhardy move, and it’s no surprise that Toyota eschewed it in favor of following the established model. This meant, though, that Toyota missed the opportunity to do something really revolutionary with the brand, or at least make it seem revolutionary.

When GM launched Saturn, there was nothing on paper that made the dealership model seem any different from previous ventures. However, the focus on customer service and satisfaction was such a revelation that even import brands were caught off guard. Toyota didn’t try to shake up the dealer experience with Scion, besides some milquetoast moves towards customization and fixed pricing. Instead, Scion was just another car brand from the get-go. The unapologetic functionality of the first generation xB, and the promise of an Eclipse with Toyota reliability undergirding the tC, were enough to pull in a decent number of early adopters. After that, the brand languished. Scion didn’t damage Toyota’s fortunes, because the product wasn’t shoddy or defective (for the most part). The brand underperformed, however, because it did not deviate from the norm of American auto sales in any meaningful way. For a brand supposed to be based on youthful rebellion and nonconformity, that was the kiss of death.

It may be too late now to salvage the Scion brand. And if Toyota decides to pull the plug on the FR-S at the end of this generation, it may be that the company won’t keep Scion around anyway. Even so, I believe I have a workable proposal for reversing Scion’s fortunes, at least on the marketing front. Take some of the money that’s being wasted on FR-S TV commercials and use it to open some storefront locations in prime shopping areas.

Let these be places where potential customers can get a feel for the product in a non-traditional setting. Put two or three cars in the showroom, and let a few employees explain their features and options. Give customers the opportunity for a test drive, if that’s workable in a given location. When somebody wants to buy, use the power of that newfangled Internet thing to match customers up with locally available inventory. In short, keep Scion customers out of the arms of dealers until the last possible moment. Use the stores as merchandising fronts for the Scion AV music venture. Be like Tesla, and offer copious merchandising opportunities all along the way. If you’re serious about turning Scion into a “movement,” then provide the means for that to happen. Dealers and a few sponsored events aren’t going to do it for you. Keep the franchisees around for their service and sales infrastructure, but don’t rely on them to market Scion for you. You don’t need to sell six-figure electric cars to create buzz. You just need some good product, presented in a relevant and novel fashion. That alone will buy you a lot of credit with the disaffected youth of today’s marketplace.

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Adventures in Downmarketing: Mercedes-Benz Goes Nintendo Sat, 21 Jun 2014 16:00:14 +0000 GLAkart

From the department of brand-killing marketing ideas comes Mercedes-Benz’s latest venture: in-game product placement for popular Nintendo game Mario Kart. Why? Because Millennials, that’s why!

For those who are unfamiliar with the series, Mario Kart is one of the most successful video game franchises of all time. There’s been at least one game on every Nintendo system since the days of the square-controller Super Nintendo. It’s easily one of the company’s most valuable franchises, right up there alongside perennial moneymakers like the Zelda and Super Mario Brothers series.

Mario Kart 8 for the Wii U, Nintendo’s current-generation home console, sold over a million copies in four days after its late May release. True to the Mario Kart tradition, MK8 is a zany, fast-paced arcade style racing game with broad appeal. Unlike Forza, Gran Turismo, or other serious simulator-type racing games, MK8 is all about casual play online and amongst friends. Comic explosions and crazy items abound, including banana peels, turtle shells, mushrooms that make you go faster, and squids that cover the screen in digital ink. Into this atmosphere steps Mercedes, which in partnership with Nintendo has announced it will sponsor a “GLA-class” kart as a piece of downloadable content (DLC) for the game sometime later this summer. That means it will most likely be a free, voluntary addition to the game, but the announcement already has many Mario Kart players steamed.

The GLA, and its CLA sedan cousin, are aimed squarely at the entry-level buyer demographic that luxury brands are currently chasing with wild abandon. Mercedes, Audi, BMW, and other luxury brands all want younger blood in their dealerships, as they try to set up a new class of lifelong repeat customers. Millennials make up a huge chunk of the player demographic for the Mario Kart series, so from a pure exposure standpoint the Mercedes sponsorship seems to make sense. Even so, the context of the game wildly clashes with Mercedes’ brand image in North America. That’s partly because this particular venture is something of a digital leftover.

It’s important to note that the GLA kart wasn’t originally intended for the North American market. Instead, it’s the fruit of a Mercedes tie-in with Nintendo in Japan. That includes a classically bizarre Japanese TV commercial (viewable in the link), where a chiseled Mario steps out of a GLA in front of a windswept castle before accidentally stepping on a Goomba. For the Japanese market, though, this is positively vanilla. Freaky ads for luxury goods and virtually everything else are pretty much the norm in the Land of the Rising Sun (if you don’t believe me, waste an afternoon on this Youtube channel). So are tie-ins between seemingly unrelated categories of products, like a German luxury automaker and a homegrown electronic entertainment conglomerate. For the American market, though, this JDM import seriously risks getting lost in translation.

At the heart of the problem is Mario Kart’s overall aesthetic. As explained earlier, it’s the kind of game where crazy power-ups coexist alongside cartoon animals and giant flowers used as parachutes. There’s absolutely nothing realistic about it, and none of the karts resemble actual vehicles in the slightest. It’s a game that exists entirely inside the made-up Nintendo universe; that’s part and parcel of the appeal. Where does a chunky, semi-realistic rendering of a Mercedes-Benz trucklet fit into this?

The short answer is that it doesn’t. Gamers are already complaining that in-game product placement of this type is completely out of line with the spirit of the series. Pessimists will counter that many of these complainers are likely to be twelve-year-olds and basement dwellers whose opinions don’t matter, and they might be right. But this product tie-in encapsulates everything that Millennials hate about marketing targeted at them: a heavy-handed attempt to make something look “cool” and “hip” by sticking it where it doesn’t belong. To those potential customers, Mercedes will now be known as the company that ruined Mario Kart by sticking a fugly CUV inside of it. For everyone else, they’ll just be a laughingstock.

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Minivans Making A Comeback, Minus The Name Wed, 28 May 2014 13:00:04 +0000 Ford Transit Connect Wagon: The Unminivan

Once the bane of soccer moms everywhere, the minivan segment is on the rebound in sales. However, the remaining stigma surrounding the name has some marketing reps doing their best to make sure “minivan” is verbotten down on Flower Shop Lane.

The Detroit News reports the marketers are throwing around alternatives — such as “people mover,” “MPV” and “family truckster” — in an effort to make the segment cool for all. Edmunds analyst Jessica Caldwell, however, has reservations on such re-labeling:

Nobody wants to be categorized as a minivan, but at the same time, they have to let people know about how they can utilize these vehicles. The harder you try to convince people it’s not a minivan, the more they are going to think it’s a minivan. Just call a spade a spade.

While the marketers are trying too hard to “#unminivan” the segment, minivan sales climbed to over half a million in 2013 after a nadir of 434,000 in 2009 during the global economic superstorm’s early phase; sales peaked in 2000 at 1.3 million. Current offerings from the Minivan Three of Toyota, Honda and Chrysler dominate the market, though newer minivans such as Ford’s Transit Connect Wagon and Kia Sedona will add more choices in the coming years.

Though the segment had a homogeneous appearance for the past few decades, modern offerings seek to grab an ounce of individuality as far as what each minivan has to offer to families and young people. In particular, smaller minivans could bring new customers to a brand, leading to further sales down the road as situations change among those who enter the showroom for a “people carrier” over a hatchback.

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QOTD: Nassim Taleb Sums Up The Problem With Our Favorite Car Makers Fri, 23 May 2014 11:00:37 +0000 BMW-2-Series-Active-Tourer

In roughly 50 words, author Nassim Taleb neatly summarizes the answer to every essay ever penned about how “Car Company X Has Lost Its Way”.

Speaking about our higher education system and its flaws, Taleb writes

“This is the natural evolution of every enterprise under the curse of success: from making a good into selling the good, into progressively selling what looks like the good, then going bust after they run out of suckers and the story repeats itself …”

From Honda to BMW to Lamborghini, it’s difficult to look around and not see examples of this phenomenon at work. On the other hand, there is Lotus, a company that has arguably avoided this trap, while also avoiding any semblance of profitability. But I don’t have the benefit of context and life experience compared to many of the B&B.

Personally, I think that the vehicle above is most symbolic of what Taleb is describing: a front-drive BMW minivan wearing an “M Sport” appearance package. Is there anything further from the platonic ideal of “The Ultimate Driving Machine”?

But I also want your opinion. I want to hear who has fallen into this trap, who had avoided it, who is most in danger and why this is complete and utter BS. Post your reply in the comments.

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Tesla Hires Renault-Nissan Communications Director Thu, 13 Mar 2014 12:35:00 +0000 tesla-model-s-10

In preparation to enter the Chinese market while battling state governments of direct sales, Tesla has hired Renault-Nissan communications director Simon Sproule to the role of vice president of communications and marketing for the EV automaker.

Bloomberg reports Sproule’s experience gained from stints with Microsoft, Jaguar, Ford and Renault-Nissan may be of benefit to Tesla, according to AutoTrends Inc. principal Joe Phillippi:

In many respects he’s got the perfect background. He’s been on the tech side, he’s been on the international auto side and he works for a CEO with peripatetic qualities who runs more than one company.

Sproule will be responsible for marketing Tesla to Europe and China — who aim to increase sales of its Model S 55 percent through exports to the two markets this year — while aiding in the fight with various state regulators over direct sales to customers, including this week’s blow-up between the automaker and New Jersey.

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German Olympian Compares Team’s Bobsled to Trabant As BMW Spends $24 Million Building Americans’ Successful Sleds Sat, 22 Feb 2014 14:00:51 +0000

Click here to view the embedded video.

Unhappy with his team’s performance this year in general and at the 2014 winter Olympics in particular, a German bobsledder compared the team’s slow sleds to the Trabant, the primitive 2-stroke powered cars sold in the former East Germany. ABC News quoted bobsled pusher Kevin Kuske, who has won four gold medals at previous Olympics, as saying, “If in 2010 we were sitting in a Formula One car, then this time we were sitting in a Trabby.” At the same time, German bobsled enthusiasts are a bit unhappy with BMW because the German car company helped make the sleds for the America bobsledders, who so far have done well in Sochi.

Germany has traditionally been a power in the sliding sports but the national team is having a bad year. The Olympics have started poorly for German bobsledders, with their two-man teams missing a medal for only the second time since 1964. It wasn’t just that they were off the podium. The best German finish was eighth, a very poor showing for a team used to medaling. Some German bobsled enthusiasts are questioning the German bobsled federation’s ties to the Institut für Forschung und Entwicklung von Sportgeräten (Institute for Research and Development of Sport Equipment), FES, which built the bobsleds the German team uses. FES was established in the early 1960s by the East German government and according to Reuters the institute receives 90% of its funding from the German government. After reunification, the West German government and sports federations absorbed many elements of what had been East Germany’s extensive sports training apparatus focused on Olympic success.

It’s not clear if Kuske’s comment were a reference to the East German origins of FES or simply a joke comparing the slow sleds to a perennial “worst cars of all times” contender.

While the German team is unhappy, the American team is celebrating, having taken bronze in the men’s two-man bobsled event and silver and bronze in the women’s two-place competition. Making the Germans even more unhappy is the fact that a German company, BMW, had a major role in the American bobsledders’ success. BMW/Designworks USA, the automaker’s California design studio, designed and built the American team’s new sled and the company spent a reported $24 million on the project. BMW North America has a sponsorship deal with the U.S. Olympic team that runs through 2016 and the Olympics are an important part of their marketing effort. BMW North America also sponsors the Canadian Olympic team.

The American team’s previous sled had been built by NASCAR’s Bodine Racing, and a number of high performance automotive companies have contributed to the sport, with Ferrari helping the Italian team and McLaren the British team. The Designworks team came up with a bobsled that, to use Mr. Kuske’s metaphor, comes closer to a F1 car than to a Sprint Cup racer. It’s made of carbon fiber, which saved 15 lbs, and since bobsledding rules mandate a fixed weight for the sleds, the reduced weight of the basic sled allowed the BMW Designworks engineers to have some flexibility with weight distribution, lowering the center of gravity and yielding a better handling sled. Preliminary designs were tested with fluid dynamics in the digital domain, while full size models were fine tuned in a wind tunnel.

As mentioned, BMW’s sponsorship of the American and Canadian Olympic teams is an important part of their overall marketing effort in North America.  Commercials for the i3 and i8 EVs were debuted during the opening ceremonies on NBC and cars on BMW’s stand at the Chicago Auto Show had license plates decorated with the Olympic rings, an American flag and the slogan “Proud Partner”. A series of commercials, short films and advertisements, like the video at the top of this post, tying BMW to the American and Canadian Olympic teams has been produced.

Around the world, local subsidiaries of foreign owned automakers use sports, including sponsorships of Olympic teams, as part of their marketing efforts trying to portray them as community members and good corporate citizens. It’s of a part with publicity about how many Americans, or Australians, or Austrians for the matter are employed locally by those companies, or how much local content Camry’s built in Kentucky have. Doing that, though, has been a delicate dance when “Japanese quality” or “German engineering”, the engineering, manufacturing and design cultures of companies’ native countries, have been part of the marketing mix. The Olympics, with their heavy dose of nationalism, provide an opportunity for automakers’ foreign operations to show that they are part of their adopted countries’ local communities, but as BMW is finding out, it’s also an opportunity to offend the folks back home if one of their adopted countries’ athletes outperform those of their native land.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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Farley: Ford’s Global Growth Driven By Crossovers Fri, 14 Feb 2014 12:00:35 +0000 2015-ford-edge-concept-live-08

Though the F-150 rules over Truck Mountain and North America with an aluminium fist, Ford marketing boss Jim Farley told reporters in a meeting that crossovers are driving his employer’s sales growth all over the globe.

Automotive News reports Ford’s shifting focus to crossovers is thanks in part to the popularity among the automaker’s global audience for the particular body style, as Farley notes:

“Most people think the F series drove our top line unit growth. The No. 1 vehicle was the Escape/Kuga. No. 2 was EcoSport. Together they had about half-million-unit growth for us. The F series was a distant third.”

Farley expects global crossover sales to reach 20 million units by 2018, with 90 percent of the sales — led by the massive hit EcoSport — to be gained outside of the North American market. The aforementioned EcoSport was developed for Brazil, only to see sales jump 220 percent in 2013 upon launch in Europe, India and China.

Speaking of China, the nation is the biggest driver of the global growth now being experienced by Ford, where not only are subcompact crossovers are doing well as are exported North American mainstays Edge and Explorer. The Blue Oval aims to continue the trend when Lincoln’s MKC luxury compact crossover takes the global stage in June against the likes of the Audi Q5, BMW X3 and Land Rover Evoque.

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$600 Million Manchester United, Chevrolet Deal Going From Bad To Worse Wed, 12 Feb 2014 16:30:40 +0000 Manchester United Squad Attend Chevrolet Event

Chevrolet’s $600 million sponsorship deal with major football club Manchester United may have been a match made in heaven, but with Man U’s performance on the pitch as of late, the deal is now on the highway to hell according to Automotive News.

The deal, written up by then-head of General Motors marketing Joel Ewanick to connect the two brands at the end of the 2012 season, was done due to Man U’s cachet with not only the English Premier League’s viewership — 643 million households in 212 countries — but also with the European Champions League tournament’s 360 million households. Though the Bow Tie has little presence in Europe beyond the Corvette — and would have trampled upon Opel/Vauxhall’s turf — the club’s fans in the Asia-Pacific market was prime for the taking in Ewanick’s mind.

Reality for the deal, however, hasn’t panned out as well as first hoped. The sin of omission committed by Ewanick regarding the sponsorship led to his sacking just as Man U’s long-serving coach Sir Alex Ferguson passed the torch to former Everton FC leader/miracle worker David Moyes.  As AN’s Mark Rechtin notes, things have not been the same since Fergusons departure. The club suffered from internal conflict in the locker room, second-guessing from the English sporting media, indecision on starting lineups, and losses to other clubs they would normally dominate if not outright destroy.

Furthermore, the club is currently seventh place in the overall EPL standings with no signs of improving to pass Everton, Tottenham and Liverpool to reach fourth and gain a qualifying position in the Champions League. Without that golden ticket, Man U will land in the oft-ignored Europa League, a marketing dead zone for any brand, let alone Chevrolet.

Finally, Man U may need to sell their star-studded lineup to make payroll, stripping away the cachet that had attracted Ewanick to pen the sponsorship deal in the first place. Not that it matters much if fans weren’t buying what Chevrolet was selling in the first place.

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Dealers Uneasy About Turnover At GM’s Sales & Marketing Team Tue, 11 Feb 2014 11:30:34 +0000 download (1)

Duncan Aldred, Brian Sweeney and Don Johnson.

As inventories of unsold cars surge past 100 days’ supply, GM has shuffled its sales and marketing organizations in an attempt to move some of that bloated inventory. Last week, GM moved Buick-GMC sales chief Brian Sweeney, 46, to the top sales post at Chevrolet, taking over for the retiring Don Johnson. Sweeney’s replacement will be Duncan Aldred, 43, who most recently has been running GM’s British brand, Vauxhall. Both executives will will report to new U.S. sales chief Steve Hill, 53.

Automotive News is reporting that the continued changes in personnel at GM’s sales and marketing divisions has been a source of frustration for dealers and ad agency executives in recent years. Some dealers feel that what they see as GM’s strongest product lineup in generations is being compromised by chaos in the marketing team responsible for promoting those new products.

“The changes can be a distraction. It makes it hard for dealers to buy into the go-to-market strategy,” said the unidentified owner of a Chevrolet dealership and a Buick-GMC store out West who spoke to Automotive News.

When he takes the job, Sweeney will be Chevy’s fifth U.S. sales chief in less than five years. Cadillac has had four sales chiefs during that period.

Paul Edwards took over U.S. marketing for Chevy only last month, appointed by the brand’s global marketing chief, Tim Mahoney, who himself has been on the job for just 10 months. Cadillac’s global marketing boss, Uwe Ellinghaus, 44, started in that position last month.


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Domestic Automakers’ Inventories Soar Past 100 Days’ Supply Tue, 11 Feb 2014 11:00:26 +0000 ku-xlarge (1)

Inventories of unsold cars and light trucks have swollen to their highest levels since the recession while sales growth in the U.S. market has slowed significantly in the past five months. That combination could mean larger discounts and incentives and lower profit margins in 2014. According to Automotive News, all three domestic automakers started February with more than a 100-day supply of unsold vehicles. Industry-wide automakers had 88 days’ worth of vehicles at the start of February, the highest February inventories have been since 2009, when the industry was at its nadir.

As a portent of things to come, on Friday GM began a nearly month long Presidents Day promotion on Chevrolet, Buick and GMC vehicles, with some of GM’s biggest incentive offers in months.

In January, sales declined 3 percent and the seasonally adjusted annualized selling rate fell to 15.2 million, the lowest since April. Much of that decline was attributed by automakers to the severe winter weather that blanketed much of the country. Analyst, though, say that there are other factors besides the weather.

Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas said that after four years of growth, the sales pace “appears to have stalled.”

“The industry stands at a crossroads,” Jonas told AN. “We really think the best of the U.S. auto replacement cycle is over. The incremental buyer is moving from someone who needs to replace their car to one who just wants to, making financial willingness to lend and credit availability more important than ever.”

Car companies are minimizing the impact of rising inventories and so far most are not giving in to increasing incentives.

GM’s inventory grew by about 32,000 units in January in a month that saw sales fall 12% from the previous year. That resulted in a 114-day supply of vehicles as of Feb. 1, the highest among major automakers, up significantly from 81 days a month earlier.

Ford Motor’s Feb. 1 supply was up to 107 days, after starting the year at 73 days, and Chrysler Group had a 105-day supply, up from 79 days. Chrysler’s inventory situation was helped by strong sales of the new Jeep Cherokee.



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Commercial Break: The Elusive Female Truck Buyer Mon, 06 Jan 2014 12:00:35 +0000

Click here to view the embedded video.

A woman and her horse: the pairing that GM hopes will persuade female consumers to consider the Chevrolet line of trucks. At a time when truck ads are pushing masculinity to absurd heights, it’s a bold move. Even so, it’s a fundamentally conservative approach to a difficult marketing problem.

How do you sell pickup trucks to women? For a long time, the answer has been that you don’t. Close to 90% of pickup buyers are male, a ratio which hasn’t changed much in decades. Making the business case for attracting more women to the pickup market isn’t hard. Full-size trucks have been the prime moneymakers for Detroit for years, a market that the Japanese would like a bigger piece of as well. A skewed sex ratio means that valuable female consumer dollars are gravitating towards other, less profitable segments. In GM’s case, CUVs like the Equinox, Terrain, and Enclave have proved popular with female buyers. But pushing those consumers towards the loaded pickups on the other side of the showroom is even better news for the bottom line. Brand strategists have realized that the full-size truck is now the de facto top of the model hierarchy, at least for the Detroit 3. Upselling women into pickups and SUVs is a natural evolution of an age-old marketing scheme: turn in your smaller vehicle for a bigger, more luxurious one.

If only it were that easy. The thorny dilemma that immediately rears its head is how to market trucks to women without compromising their masculine image in the eyes of male consumers. As long as strong, rugged maleness remains the accepted paradigm for truck ads, the hands of agencies and marketing departments are tied. For the dominant manufacturers in the truck game, there’s no need to shake up the status quo on a product that already sells in droves. The companies with a smaller slice of the pie seem content to ape the strategy of the more successful brands in the hopes of gradually elevating sales. The result is an echo chamber of advertising which intentionally minimizes the role of women or excludes them entirely.

However, there are three factors which might motivate companies to pursue female truck buyers more aggressively. The first is the already-discussed temptation to upsell and broaden the pickup market generally. The second is that for a major product with such lucrative margins, the 10-15% of women who already buy new trucks is “not an insignificant number,” as Chevrolet truck marketing director Maria Rohrer explained to Business Insider back in July. Thirdly, advertising campaigns that incorporate women or themes relevant to women may influence purchasing decisions regardless of who signs on the dotted line. Although women are the direct buyers in a relatively small portion of truck sales, they influence countless more as the wives, daughters, business partners and girlfriends of male truck purchasers. Chevrolet’s “Strong” music video seems to take this influence into account. Although there’s a single female driver at around the 2:46 mark, there are many other women interspersed throughout the ad. The lyrics to the song are a paean to the sturdy blue-collar man who puts work and family above all else, a move away from the kind of brashness that characterizes Ford’s current ad series for the F-series. It’s one thing to give women a nod by putting them in the background, but how do you sell to them directly?

Chevrolet’s solution is an ad featuring a woman that explicitly eschews traditionally feminine themes. There are no kids being buckled into car seats, no painted fingernails tapping touchscreens, no group of women disembarking from a quad cab at the beach or the mall. It’s the opposite of the (in)famous Porsche “school bus” commercial, which dropped Porsche vehicles into a variety of mundane scenarios. Instead, we get a tough, independent woman hurling hay bales into the back of her new Silverado. She’s thin, youngish, and attractive, but not “pretty” or delicate: her hair is loose and wild, she has a tattoo on her wrist, and she looks at home in her cowboy boots, flannel, and sunglasses. She’s the only woman in the entire ad, outside of a quick crowd shot at the rodeo. She handles her horse and her truck entirely by herself; independence is the clear message. At the end of the day, she wins “a ribbon that goes on her wall, not in her hair.” As the author of the Business Insider piece astutely observed, and ad chief Rohrer confirmed, the narrative is designed to be “something that everyone could relate to.” And therein lies the fundamental conservatism of this approach: it seeks to attract female consumers within the existing, male-centric paradigm. There’s no serious risk of the masculinity of Chevy trucks being watered down from this ad, even though the main character is a woman. It engages women within the context of an open but overwhelmingly male-dominated activity. This is the safe approach, but is it the right one?

                The issue with this spot is that the direct appeal is ultimately very narrow. Even among the women who already buy pickups, the number of rodeo-competing horse enthusiasts is tiny. And it is very remote from the lives of the small business owners, industrial professionals, and affluent suburbanites who might form the core of a new female class of truck buyers. In other words, the appeal of the ad is deep within its narrow target, but not broad. Were I asked to design my own ad campaign for pickup trucks that targeted women, I would try to choose a widely relevant situation. A woman loading up home improvement supplies would be an example. So would a female contractor visiting a job site, or a business owner making a delivery. It might be worthwhile to toss a few kids into the ad as well, but not as the main focus. A woman and her horse is a step in the right direction, but it’s not likely to get many more women to consider a truck than those that already do. That’s probably what Chevrolet was going for, but expanding the market should be a long-term strategic goal.

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Porsche Dealer Turbocharges Local Marketing by Hosting 14 PSI 25 Bar Mitzvah Parties & Other Catered Events Fri, 03 Jan 2014 12:00:37 +0000 Porsche of Beachwood's service department set up to host a Bar Mitzvah party

Porsche of Beachwood’s service department set up to host a Bar Mitzvah party

Porsche of Beachwood, a Penske Automotive Group store outside of Cleveland, has come up with a new way of marketing the dealership and brand. The dealer makes its facilities available for free to groups and families putting on catered events. So far they have hosted about 25 affairs: bar mitzvah parties, runway fashion shows, fundraisers, dinners and after-parties. “We have not done a wedding reception yet, but I imagine it’s just a matter of time,” says Jason Grimm, the dealership’s general manager. 

Beachwood is an affluent suburb and Grimm wanted the dealership to stand out in a place where expensive cars are not unusual. About two years ago he invested about $8,000 to $10,000 on 100 chairs, 25 tables, linens and 400 to 500 wine glasses and started spreading the word that Porsche of Beachwood was available, for free, as a venue for events. So far they have hosted events as intimate as a 50 person dinner and as large as 450 people attending a bar mitzvah party. I’m sure that Adolf Rosenberger, a successful racer and businessman who, with Ferdinand Porsche and Dr. Anton Piëch, founded Porsche GmbH in 1931, would approve.

“We’ll be hosting a school fundraiser for a local high school” soon, with an estimated 500 people attending, Grimm said. The ongoing cost is minimal, paying a couple of the dealers’ porters to set up and knock down the dining facilities.

Grimm says the return on the investment in terms of good will and potential future customers is priceless, though they have sold some cars directly due to the program. “We have sold a handful of cars, probably three or four, directly from events,” Grimm says. “Now, how many more do you sell from people who say, ‘Hey, I was at this event one time’ or ‘I heard of an event my friend held there?’ Showroom drivers are what we’re looking for” he says. “What better way to do that than create a communal buzz on how beautiful the store is and how welcoming the staff was.”

Grimm got the idea at the Porsche dealership’s grand opening, then it germinated and sort of took off on its own. The grand opening was a spectacle with more than 650 people attending. They had professional lighting and catering and it generated a lot of buzz in local social media. Grimm realized “this place could really be a cool venue.”

He started by making the facility available to a regional Porsche club for their meetings. Within weeks he got an inquiry from a financial planning firm looking for a venue for a client appreciation event. “I think they would have paid if we’d asked, but we said, ‘Why pay?’” Grimm says. “I work from ‘yes’ anyway, so far be it from me to say ‘no’ to someone who wants to use our state-of-the-art facility to promote themselves personally or professionally. I checked the date and said, ‘Let’s do it.’” Word of mouth then spread the news of a cool new place to hold events in Beachwood.

So far there have been no problems and no damage to any of the pricey Porsches on the showroom floor and in the repair bays. “I have attended a lot of the events here and people tend to stay away from the expensive stuff,” Grimm says. The six cars that are usually on the showroom floor are worth about $800,000 total. They’re locked, as are all the offices, but other than that, guests have the run of the place.

“We have a general understanding with the person sponsoring the event that if there is a major cleanup, they do it,” Grimm says. “We have a cleaning company that comes anyhow so that is no extra cost.”

Events are usually after normal business hours but they have hosted events in the service department when it has been closed while the showroom continued to operate.

The porters who help set up also keep an eye on things during the events. They are “the eyes and ears” of the dealership, show event operators how to use the lights and the sound system, “keep an eye on everything,” and then lock up afterwards.

Grimm does screen the groups and the type of event before giving approval. No liquor or catering licenses are needed because the dealer itself sells no food or alcohol. The groups holding the events assume liability for any damage or theft. The groups are told that “it is in their best interest and recommended that they get proper insurance coverage for their liability because at the end of the day it doesn’t really come back on us,” Grimm says.

If demand for the venue increases, Grimm says that he’ll buy more tables and chairs and possibly assign a store employee to coordinate and manage the events as well as promotion of the venue.

“For this to work, you’ve got to believe it’s going to work long term,” Grimm says. “If you’re looking for a hard seven-month return on investment to it, you probably shouldn’t do it.”

This is a great marketing idea. Grimm has latched onto something here and I can see other car dealers selling high priced cars duplicating the program, though to be honest, I’m skeptical that any Ferrari dealer is ever going to give away any kind of service for free.

Though it’s an unusual thing for a car dealer to host catered events, it’s not at all unusual for a car museum. The GM Heritage Center outside of Detroit can be rented for some corporate events and while Porsche of Beachwood hasn’t yet hosted a wedding, the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum in Auburn, Indiana is available for weddings and other events for as little as $300.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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Automotive Wayback Machine: Trail of the Rocket – Lucille and Johnny Tour an Oldsmobile Plant circa 1951 Sun, 22 Dec 2013 13:00:42 +0000

Click here to view the embedded video.

Last week we ran a post of mine about the Jam Handy Organization, a motion picture studio located in the Detroit area that created many of General Motors’ promotional films for decades. A couple of the readers liked my idea of posting some more of those vintage films as a recurring feature here on TTAC. Jam Handy, though, wasn’t the only person who recognized the potential of using motion pictures to promote the sale of automobiles.


Ford had its own Ford Motion Picture Laboratories, but there was another “indie” in Detroit, so to speak, besides the Handy company and that was Wilding Picture Productions. Based in Chicago, Wilding operated a Detroit office, from where they produced films like Trail of the Rocket. It features Lucille and Johnny, a couple of singers whose television show is sponsored by Oldsmobile, who offers them a V.I.P. tour of Oldsmobile factory in Lansing. Like many of the Handy produced films, this was intended for theatrical release, so it had to be entertaining, hence a rather lame science fiction subplot involving a possible Martian spy at loose in the factory (though the little bit of social commentary on how Earthling behavior would negatively influence Martian society starting at ~6:00 is pretty humorous, comic books, be-bop music and television commercials!).

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Chevrolet U.S. Marketing Chief Chris Perry Resigns Fri, 20 Dec 2013 04:22:05 +0000 General Motors Vice President Global Marketing Chris Perry

Following on the heels of General Motors CEO Dan Akerson’s recent resignation, Chevrolet’s chief marketing officer for the United States Chris Perry has called it a day effective immediately.

Perry came aboard from Hyundai in 2010 through former GM chief marketing officer Joel Ewanick, going through numerous title shifts until the automaker hired former Volkswagen of America executive Tim Mahoney as the Bow Tie’s global chief marketing officer last spring.

Prior to his hiring, Perry was Hyundai’s top U.S. marketing executive after Ewanick left for GM. The duo were responsible for the Korean automaker’s Hyundai Assurance program, allowing customers who financed or leased out a new Hyundai to return the model within a year should the customer lose their income.

Regarding Chevrolet, Perry spearheaded both the Tim Allen-voiced “Chevy Runs Deep” ad campaign — since replaced by the “Find New Roads” theme after customers didn’t take a shine to the depths of the golden bow tie — and the ongoing “Under the Blue Arch” retail campaign, where fictional characters promote Chevrolet’s lineup.

GM has yet to announce a successor.

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Editorial: It’s Time to Rethink Truck Advertising Thu, 19 Dec 2013 13:00:26 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

An imposing, expensive log home dominates a clearing, reclaimed from the rugged pine-infested wilderness that surrounds it. Smoke rises from the chimney, overlaying the picturesque mountain peak in the background. In front of the home, a man leans over the open engine bay of his obviously new truck. The chrome gleams, despite the trail mud artistically bespattered on the sides. As the camera zooms in, he looks up from the engine bay and smiles. His tousled hair, unshaven stubble, and harmonious blend of over-25-under-40 facial features comport well alongside his worn cowboy boots, perfectly soiled jeans and carefully rumpled flannel shirt. He wipes his hands with a rag, looks back at the house for just a moment, and then turns to the camera.

“Built it myself,” he says with a polished gruffness. “But I couldn’t have done it without the right tools for the job. Saws, hammers, nails, and varnish. And a truck I can depend on.” He reaches over and closes the hood with a “thunk” that took the sound editing guy three weeks to get right. “Brand X is as reliable as the day is long. But what I like the most is that I can do all the regular maintenance myself. Oil changes, fluid flushes, and anything else she needs. It’s easy. Everything comes in a handy guide. No experience necessary. Brand X builds a truck for you, not for mechanics.”

At that moment, the screen door on the porch swings open. A well-groomed Labrador Retriever rushes out with a happy bark, his collar jingling. As he runs towards his master, an achingly beautiful brunette steps out onto the porch. Her hair falls down over her slightly unbuttoned blouse as she smiles at the man in the courtyard. He turns to face her and gives a casual wave, just as the dog reaches his feet. She returns the wave, as he pets the dog with his free hand. She leans against a porch column as he turns back to the camera, the dog now sitting alongside him. Now he wears a knowing smirk on his face. “Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty.” The challenge made, he turns back and heads towards the front door. The camera zooms out, and cuts away to the mountains as he reaches the porch and embraces the girl. The logo for Brand X looms onto the screen. An announcer calls out the tagline. “Brand X. Independence is everything.”

“Don’t provoke your customers.” The maxim seems simple enough. So is the script above a form of marketing suicide? Not necessarily. Megadoses of brash masculinity in contemporary truck ads are a given. Especially with the collapse of the small and mid-size truck markets, portraying the heavy-duty macho pedigree of pick-ups is essential. Nobody wants to build the next Brat. Instead, deep-voiced announcers harangue viewers with statistics and brawny narratives. The question becomes one of oversaturation. How many images of trucks towing impressive-looking gooseneck setups/ginormous almost-yachts/inferior trucks, trucks getting huge loads of bricks/rocks/other bulky substances dumped in the bed from ridiculous heights, and trucks pulling overloaded trailers up a Mad Max-ish winding tower of death surrounded by OMG FLAMES SO HARDCORE can the average guy absorb before the effect starts to wear thin?

Perhaps we already have the answer: pulling a freaking space shuttle into a hangar in a supposedly “real world” challenge without the slightest hint of irony or self-effacement (“It’s really heavy, and it’s also quite big.” Bob the Builder would be proud.) Or maybe it peaked even earlier: parking a perfectly good pickup between two bulldozers and bending the hell out of it just to prove that yes, it is hard to crush something made of metal that weighs the better part of three tons. (It’s worth noting that Ford pulled that ad after negative consumer reaction.) Every manufacturer is guilty of this to some degree; the struggle for breathless superlatives and ludicrous stunts is an arms race that not even Kissinger could de-escalate. What’s more of an insult to a customer: the insinuation that these shenanigans somehow represent real-world product value, or that maybe, just maybe, taking responsibility for your own vehicle maintenance is sexy?

The cartoonish over sincerity of truck advertising is ripe to be skewered. At least one ad exec working for GM has realized this. A memorable 2012 Super Bowl ad for Chevy trucks riffed cheekily on the Mayan Apocalypse as well as manly vigor in the face of chaos. The ad works because it gets the message across (GM builds the most reliable pickups) without resorting to overwrought machismo or torrents of forgettable facts and figures. Recently, brands in other product categories have gotten far by giving masculinity the ironic, playful treatment.

The line of Axe grooming products comes most readily to mind, as do the over-the-top ads for Dr. Pepper 10. Going farther back in automotive history, there are numerous examples where manufacturers achieved enormous success by attacking the marketing tropes of the day. The most iconic of these was the Doyle Dane Bernbach series of Volkswagen ads that appeared in 1959. “Think Small” exploded decades of conventional wisdom about what Americans expected from an automotive ad campaign. The enormous success of VW in swimming upstream changed not only that company’s fortunes, but arguably the entire character of the US car market.

The DIY aesthetic has long been a favorite background for truck ads. Since at least the 1980s, though, manufacturers have been hesitant to apply it to the trucks themselves. Perhaps this is due to the need to maintain good relations with dealers, who rely on service for a steady income stream. More likely, it rests on the presumption that modern drivers want nothing to do with the mechanical upkeep of their vehicles of they can help it. It wasn’t always this way; ads from the 1970s and before are replete with references to the ease of do-it-yourself maintenance for both cars and trucks alike. Resurrecting self-maintenance would be a quick and easy way for a manufacturer to stake out a unique niche in the marketing game.

Because many truck buyers are commercial customers who are already more likely to self-maintain, the strategy carries less risk than if it were applied to passenger cars. It could help a marginal player like Nissan establish a reputation as a “man’s truck,” owned by the confident and technically savvy. This is the most crucial part of the game: the creation of an image that customers will want to buy into, not necessarily one they live themselves. Very few smokers of Marlboro Reds are lasso-wielding cowboys. But the image offered by that campaign proved to be an immensely powerful draw. It isn’t necessary to throw out all conventional wisdom at once, like DDB did for VW. However, the existing stale and hyper-masculine paradigm of truck ads is ripe to be shaken up, one way or another.

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Jalopnik Declares War On Embargoes — And It’s A War They Will Win Wed, 04 Dec 2013 21:17:05 +0000 embargo

In a rather terse and self-consciously matter-of-fact column released earlier today, Jalopnik’s Matt Hardigree drew a line in the sand: the website will not honor any product embargoes not related to new-car drive events and opportunities. He’s careful to point out that it’s business advantages, not ethical considerations, underlying the change in policy.

To the PR people in their metaphorical ivory towers who consider Jalopnik to be nothing but a heavily-JavaScripted sewer for mouth-breathing teenagers, bronys, unemployed Millennials living at home with their parents, and euphoric-fedora-wearing forever-alone virgins who were perma-banned from “9GAG” for failing to meet that site’s minimum IQ requirements, Mr. Hardigree’s decision probably appears to warrant no action other than taking all Gawker-domain email addresses off pre-packaged product communication. The serenity with which they will do so probably closely approximates what the last Brachiosaurus felt as he calmly chewed the first of the day’s ten thousand leaves while watching a bright flash streak across the morning sky, and for about the same reason: their ability to see the future stops at the hindbrain. In the long run, however, everybody will suffer — or almost everybody, including you.

Let’s start by considering the idea of the “embargo”. On the face of it, an auto-journalism embargo is straight-up ridiculous. A car manufacturer decides that they are going to pick a date to release new information about a car. After the date is set, the manufacturer contacts the media and provides them information in a staggered fashion so that everybody has a chance to put said information in front of their customer at about the same time.

It’s at times like these that auto-journalism’s origins — infomercial broadsheets published by manufacturers themselves — are most plainly apparent. In the case of the Mustang, Ford decided that AutoWeek would be “first” and that other sources would follow. This amounts to a direct financial subsidy to AutoWeek, who would theoretically see a substantial rise in circulation with an exclusive new Mustang on the cover. Think about that for a moment. Ford has some power here that can be measured in dollars. If Ford would agree to give exclusive Mustang photos to my personal website, I could look forward to a million-plus hits on that website — and even at ten bucks per thousand hits on the advertising, that would be enough to buy myself something nice.

The new-Mustang pie is big enough to cut into a few different pieces, so other news sources, such as TIME, were invited to participate as well. Had everybody played nice, come New Mustang Day you would have been surrounded by images of the car. It would amount to near-total saturation, reaching nearly everybody who is even dimly interested in automobiles. And if everything had gone properly, the rising tide would have lifted all boats according to Ford’s desires. Insofar as most people can think in a six-month or one-year timeframe, even people who write about cars for a living, it’s safe to assume that a desire to get a starring role in the Mustang review has been on the minds of many people in the business for a while now. Note, for example, that TTAC didn’t receive any embargoed Mustang information ahead of time. We’ll be attending tomorrow’s global reveal meeting in Dearborn, however.

All of this worked perfectly well for decades, until — you guessed it, the World Wide Web. We now live in an era where photos taken at auto shows can be instantly uploaded to websites within minutes, or even seconds with the new Wi-Fi SD cards. (Ironically, the first time I met Mr. Hardigree he was running Compact Flash cards between some rather nonplussed freelance photographers and Ray Wert’s press-room staff at the Detroit Auto Show. He’s always been ahead of the curve, I suppose.) It’s now common for an embargo to be broken on the Web, followed by a flood of reposts and links and whatnot as everybody works at top speed to maximize the clicks before they dry up.

As Mr. Hardigree rather astutely notes in his article, the mechanism of the embargo means that Jalopnik and TTAC are free to publish images of the AutoWeek front cover, even as AutoWeek themselves are unable to do so because they have a signed agreement with Ford explicitly disallowing that behavior. The big bucks that AW was supposed to have made off the embargo will be made elsewhere.

Meanwhile, TIME appears to have completely disregarded the embargo. Presumably, they are unfamiliar with the idea of holding “news” until the subject feels they are ready to have the news printed. Not that TIME is above all sorts of idiocy peculiar to their own brand of “journalism”, but I digress. The bottom line is that the people who played by the rules in the embargo will not benefit.

Which, in the long run, removes any reason to participate in embargoes. As much as AutoWeek doesn’t want to get their news from Matt Hardigree, they like watching him run photos of their own magazine that they, in turn, are unable to publish even less. Better to have a situation where everybody grabs the news at the same time and publishes it as quickly as they can.

And that’s where Mr. Hardigree and Jalopnik come in. Nobody does immediate news like Gawker does. They’re as ruthlessly optimized for that particularly reductionist purpose as a Great White shark. When everybody is free to publish immediately, then the organization that operates with the lowest drag wins. The end of the embargo era will be the Last Trump that signifies the complete ascendancy of the Web over the print rag in the automotive-enthusiast world.

From an ethical perspective, this is brilliant. It will mean the end of the cozy relationships, although Mr. Hardigree’s note that he will respect new-car drive embargoes shows that he won’t go any further in pursuit of transparency than the end of a road paved with buttered bread. It will level the playing field between the Big Guys and the Little Guys, which is a good thing. It will remove the manufacturers’ ability to dangle something ahead of the magazines that looks less like a carrot and more like an actual pinata full of cash. Let’s welcome our new insect overlords, shall we?

Yet you, the reader, will find the era of fast-news only slightly more satisfying than a shopping-mall food court. It means that from now until the end of time you’ll get your information about cars filtered through some intern who has limited education, limited talent, limited resources, and a twenty-minute time limit to get it done — with fifteen minutes being nice if you can do it, Jeremy, you know we value the fastest, most hyperbolic writers here at BigBlogCorp. Ironically, the opening sentence of the Jalopnik article bears the unmissable signs of first-draft writing. Get it done, get it out, get it over with.

Faced with the end of their ability to be anything but last to the party, I’m hoping that the magazines will choose being best as an alternative. That they (hey! we! have I mentioned that I write occasionally for the most awesome magazine this side of Black Tail?) will elevate the craftsmanship, the beauty, the truth of what is presented to you on the printed page. That we will all look forward to each issue of our chosen airline companion with the proverbial bated breath, knowing that what we’re about to read will be more carefully composed and thoroughly researched than anything we ever read on the front page of any blog, including this one.

It’s a tough mission, and not everybody will come back from it — but to be shot down in the pursuit of excellence is worthy of admiration itself, and surely the view from one’s parachute, of the filthy masses screaming and Spiderman-picture-posting and “shitposting” all over each other, will have a grisly beauty all its own.

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Editorial: The Ultimate Touring Machine Fri, 29 Nov 2013 14:00:36 +0000 550x403xbmwrabbit-550x403.jpg.pagespeed.ic.E4xoO7LgdX

Buried in an article about the East-West schism between wagons and BMW’s ungainly Gran Turismo series of pseudo-crossovers was a bit of news destined to horrify the BMW diehards that represent a slim but vocal minority of its customer base. Despite indications that it would not be appearing on our shores, BMW will in fact be launching a front-drive car in North America, as per Automotive News Europe

Next year, BMW will add a minivan-styled compact model targeted at young families, sports enthusiasts who need space for their equipment and older buyers who like cars that are easy to get in and out of and have a high seating position. The minivan will be based on the Active Tourer concept and is set to debut in production guise at the Geneva auto show in March. Most likely it will be called the 2-series Active Tourer. It will be underpinned by BMW’s new UKL front-wheel-drive architecture that debuted this week on the third-generation Mini.

The two readers who regularly follow my byline (hi, Mom and Dad) will recall that just months ago, I penned an editorial defending BMW’s move towards front-wheel drive platforms. I still stand by that opinion, and the choice to do front-wheel drive is a rational one for BMW.

Having spent untold sums (likely billions) developing the front-drive UKL architecture, BMW needs to amortize the costs somehow. And with profitability and scale requirements being what they are in a highly competitive, globalized marketplace, BMW cannot confine UKL to the MINI brand alone.

Transverse, front-drive layouts make a lot of sense in terms of packaging and interior space. A car like the 1-Series is a prime candidate for this layout – in Europe, where it’s offered as a hatchback as well as a coupe, the north-south engine layout and rear-drive running gear eats up passenger and trunk space. And with the small, sporty coupe now being sold as the 2-Series, there is room for the 1-Series to become a front-drive, entry-level BMW that can compete with everything from the Ford Focus to the Volkswagen Golf to the Mercedes-Benz CLA. Ford, in particular, must be running scared at the prospect of a C-Segment BMW that will have a higher end (and comparably more profitable) Focus Titanium or Vignale in its sights.

But being a car enthusiast is not about the rational, the sensible or the profit and loss statement. I spend far too much time in these virtual pages wearing that particular hat. If you’d be so kind as to indulge me for a second, I’m going to remove it as I step up on to the soapbox.

*Begin rant*

Reading the description of the ActiveTourer, instantly conjures up two of the most noxious words in our modern lexicon: “lifestyle” and “brand”. Lifestyle, because this is clearly a “lifestyle” vehicle, targeted at people who like “outdoor” activities, young families who prioritize car seats over sports seats and older buyers who are looking for an easy ingress/egress.

I don’t begrudge any of these types. I like to get some fresh air once in a while, I hope to be blessed with a family at some point in the near (but not too near) future, and inevitably, I will grow old. I have watched my parents migrate from sedans to crossovers as they have gotten older, and my grandmother finds it much easier to get in and out of the Fit in the local Honda dealer than her 2000 Civic.

I’m even willing to concede that front-wheel drive is hardly an impediment to driving purity or outright performance. Look at a Volkswagen GTI or a Fiesta ST if you need proof. But the ActiveTourer’s stated mission flies in the face of that. This vehicle seems to represent the denouement for BMW’s journey from The Ultimate Driving Machine to The Ultimate Lifestyle Brand That Once Made Interesting Vehicles.

Click here to view the embedded video.

*End rant*

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Whither Volvo? Tue, 26 Nov 2013 17:39:33 +0000 2014 Volvo V60 T6

I’ve always had a soft spot for Volvo, that’s probably why I’ve owned two and chose European Delivery on one of them. But Volvo has a problem. It’s not the product. It’s not even the brand positioning. It’s a lack of advertising and visibility. Let’s dive deep into my mind as I pontificate about Volvo’s destiny.

Auto shows are an interesting place to see where a brand thinks they are heading. In Chrysler’s dark days they shrank their auto show floor real estate to a postage stamp sized lot, but it was in the busy central area of the LA Auto Show. Volvo on the other hand has long been squeezed into a minuscule area between Ford and Lincoln. This year something is different. Volvo relocated to the middle of the hall that contains BMW, Audi, Mercedes Lexus and Acura. They have also doubled their square footage. What does this mean for the brand’s direction and faithful? I’m not sure. Why? Because in typical fashion, Volvo had their new-to-America V60 wagon on the floor, but the press conference was on engines we won’t see for ages. [Edit: Volvo tells us we will see the new 4-cylinder engines in January of 2014.] It was also scheduled for the last day of the show when everyone but me had flown home.

The problem was that there was plenty to talk about for the new model year. 2014 brought an unexpected interior refresh across the line with new shifters that are no longer clear (thank God), optional stitched leather dashboards, new front and rear bumpers across the line, a faster 6-speed transmission, LCD disco dashes for the masses and a touchscreen 3G connected system that you can use while wearing gloves. We also get some engine tweaks and more Polestar performance love. Did Volvo mention any of that? Nope. How about that V60? Oh, that? Ja, it’s new. Nej, we are not allowed to talk about new products. (OK, I made that last part up.)

2014 Volvo Leather Dash

What makes Volvo’s situation all the more bizarre is that when most companies wither and die, the product was the harbinger of doom. Saturn had, well, every car they ever made. Isuzu, enough said. Mitsubishi has the Mirage and Outlander and the writing is on the wall. Volvo on the other hand seems to have enough cash to make cars or to market cars, but not both. In typical Swedish fashion they have chosen the former. The result is a leather and natural-stained-oak wrapped S80 T6 that does 0-60 in 5.3 while AWD power-sliding through an intersection. Yes the steering is numb, heavy and slightly vague, but in reality the S80 is “more E350 and 535xi” than a Lexus GS or Acura RLX. Do those shoppers know the S80 exists? Nope. The XC60 T6 R-Design we tested about a year ago was the most powerful mid-sized luxury SUV available being as fast as the BMW X3 and faster than the Audi or Merc. Until the Macan lands, the Volvo is still second, just a hair below the incredibly expensive Audi SQ5. Anyone know that? Not even Volvo knew that. When we reviewed the XC60, I asked Volvo if they could confirm my suspicion it wore the horsepower crown. All I heard were crickets.

Even the ancient XC90 (which is nearly old enough to buy tobacco) is still a fairly competent SUV. By no means is it class leading, but shockingly, it just sailed through the IIHS small offset test to get a Best Pick award. Even after nearly 12 years on the market, I could see someone buying an XC90 instead of a Buick Enclave.

Plenty of people are convinced Volvo’s woes are because the product is too expensive, that the brand is trying to go upmarket and it doesn’t belong. Hogwash. If they want to price out their loyal 240 customers, go right ahead, this is business. BMW moved up market, Audi moved up market. Heck, even Kia is moving up market with the K900. Making more expensive widgets isn’t the issue, selling the widget is the problem. If Geely really wants to make a go out of Volvo, here’s my simple plan.


Step 1: Advertise. I’m not talking about doubling your budget. Dig deep. Find out what Audi is spending and get as close as you can. Mortgage everything if you need to.. Make it edgy. Bring those Volvo wife-swapping commercials from Sweden and play ‘em on prime time TV. Bring back some teary-eyed “my Volvo saved my life” content. Jump some Volvos off a cliff. Jam some Swedish models in the cars.

Step 2. You know that 500+ horsepower S60? Stop toying with us and just build the darn thing. Will it be expensive? Sure. Will it sell? Probably not. Does it matter? Yes. Why do you think Kia wants a K900 flagship that will have an annual sales of 12? Besides, such a project might allow Volvo to design a 400HP drivetrain at a reasonable cost which is essential to compete with the Germans.

Step 3. Regain the impression of safety leadership. Notice I said impression. This goes back to step one. By not advertising, you have allowed Honda, Subaru, and others to take a leadership role in consumer’s minds about safety. I know safety doesn’t sell by itself, but everyone I know with kids that asks for car advice says one thing first: “I want a safe car that XXX”. Play on those fears.

Step 4. Prey on the weak. Acura and Lexus seem to have trouble finding their calling lately. Use that to your advantage and target four-cylinder FWD cars at those folks. Hint: they love wood trim and don’t care about RWD driving dynamics, so make a trim level just for them.

Step 5. It has been said before, but I’m starting to agree. You need to build a minivan. Make it looks XC60 ish, seat 8, give it AWD and don’t cheap out on the back seats. The Mercedes R didn’t sell, so keep the price reasonable, maybe a $10,000 premium over Chrysler’s Town & Country. Jam more air bags than a mother-in-law convention in there and sell it to minivan mommies who will buy anything to keep their kids in a Swedish cocoon.


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Hammer Time: Young People Smell Funny Thu, 14 Nov 2013 17:40:30 +0000 large

A herd of automotive journalists get led off into a dark room filled with oversized furniture and cheap snacks.

It is where the ritual slaughter of truth takes place. A screen bigger than Wilt Chamberlain’s …. flashes in front of them as discordant music pulses and the beautiful people beam out their irrational exuberance of owning the upcoming 2014 model.

The actors and actresses on the screen are all young, sexy, virile, obscenely joyful, and about as genuine as a thirty-three dollar bill. Which is A-OK for me. Because after the fifteen minutes of corporate infomercials filled with empty code words such as “Value”, “Best In Class”, and “Award Winning”, the head honcho of the press junket let’s me, and everyone else, off the hook with the biggest lie in the car business.

“We believe our core audience will be young people in their 20′s and 30′s.”

It doesn’t matter what car they are trying to jerk us off with, the words never change.

Cadillac XTS?

Click here to view the embedded video.

Young… 30′s…. a technology junkie…

Toyota Corolla?

Click here to view the embedded video.

20′s and 30′s… preferably someone who thinks that there were plenty of talented white dancers on Soul Train.

A Lincoln?

Click here to view the embedded video.

A rabid Jimmy Fallon fan… 20′s to 30′s…. who still thinks old Town Cars and floating sting rays are great ways to rebuild your brand image.

I have been through dozens of press car launches over the last two years, and every single one of them is lock, stock and loaded with a barrel full of the big lie.

“We… want… the… young. Old people? Not in our commercials! But you’re invited to visit the local dealership, and we’re hoping that the parental enablers within you will help improve our current demographics. But our NEW customers? Our army of customers for the future? Young.”

The young obviously include the young at heart, and of course, that includes all of us who have the money to blow on a new car. In otherwords, the average 60 year old.

Click here to view the embedded video.

These days the mature among us are supposed to be sold with plenty of dancing, spastic pop music, and enough good drugs to turn any rotten life into a Disney movie.

Am I being a curmudgeon? Not at all. This particular commercial struck me as one of those patronizing phony pitches that is designed for success in the boardroom. and failure in the marketplace.

The old man within the middle-aged me looked at this ad. and imagined a bunch of burnt out advertising executives trying to convey the following message.

“Our car is the cool car. Our cool is the hip car. Why? Shut up and look at the young people dancing. It’s like, all 70′s and shit.”

This is the same outstanding logic that brought us talking cartoon ducks selling Cadillacs.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Commercials featuring water, which were somehow supposed to introduce the Infiniti brand back in the day when all Datsuns were Nissans.

Click here to view the embedded video.

And the reanimated corpse that nobody knew outside our industry or cared about. Once again hocking cars… maybe…

Click here to view the embedded video.

Now if Harley Earl had ripped the flesh off that young guy’s neck. Carjacked the brand new 2003 Pontiac GTO, and hit enough curbs, pedestrians and stop signs to make the commercial resemble the game Grand Theft Auto, then it would have been something worth our attention.

Instead you’re left thinking, “What the hell was that all about? Buicks? Old guys with hats?”

This is the exact level of bewilderment that goes through my mind whenever I am reintroduced to the young buyer paradox. Young people are broke these days, for the most part. So why fucking lie?

Reality usually gets no more than a passing glance in the rear view mirror at these new model launches because doing so would require these guys to admit that that their best customer is the stupid one who buys the car at MSRP, and finances it at an 18+% interest rate,.Plus bullshit fees and GAP insurance.

While the guys pine away about their target audience. This is what I usually lead between the lines and the moving lips.

“We love all our customers Steve. Really! But we especially love the stupid ones who are bad at math.” If the guys who presented these vehicles would at least pay homage to their true prime customer, instead of creating fictional facsimiles based on modern day fashions, they would likely wind up with better marketing campaigns.

The Cadillac XTS was probably the best example of the type of marketing campaign where there is simply no audience and a complete dismissal of reality. After a few commercials featuring music and random images of the XTS, we were introduced to the then brand new CUE technology. This new system would be the killer app for getting Cadillac’s new young customers in the door.

Did the CUE technology enable hands-free communting? Was it some type of tablet, phablet, or mobile device? I came there with absolutely no idea what CUE meant.

So, I was treated to a solid two minutes of a guy using what seemed to be aikido type movements to guide all the instrumentation on the center console.

What the hell was that? Why?

Well, because in the future dictated by Cadillac, apparently knobs no longer work. This was the defining reason to buy the XTS. No knobs.

Click here to view the embedded video.

After the final video, we were given the grand announcement of who the target audience would be for the XTS.


30′s, maybe 40′s.

Technology junkies.

Someone who thought that Cadillac is a world class brand that can outperform other leading luxury brands including Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Lexus and Infiniti.

Any questions?

You bet your ass I had questions. After a couple of minutes I was mentally crossing out the questions that I simply couldn’t ask…

“I see that CUE uses hand movements for the radio and temperature controls. What about finger gestures? If I gave CUE the finger, or the circle jerk, would it automatically scan to the nearest talk radio station?”

“In the future, are there any black people who buy your product?”

“What do you guys have against knobs? Couldn’t you have simply constructed four round knobs that don’t feel like rubber dog chew toys?”

This is the one I ended up asking…

“The Mercedes E-Class, Audi A6 and BMW 5-Series all offer multiple engine choices along with their own unique high performance models. You are offering one engine and that one is shared with the Impala and LaCrosse. How can you realistically expect to compete with the best cars in this class?”

The fellow in charge of answering the questions did a little sidestep.

Click here to view the embedded video.

And let me in on who Cadillac’s future customer would be.



The sleazy used car dealer? Pretty close.

The young Silicon Valley entrepreneur.

Now don’t get me wrong. Marketing teams in every industry want to show how their product is the best in the business. But to get people into that Promise Land when it comes to cars, you need a target that your audience can relate to.

Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who think that Cadillac is a world class brand is not a target. It’s a fictionalized slip of the tongue that let me know the XTS had no chance of making it.

“Young people” is also not a target. When it comes to cars, not even an age group (or sex) can represent a valid target. 25 to 35 can range anywhere from investment banker to jail bait.

However, the worst target is not one that is too big, too small, or even a fictional one.

The worst target in the car business is the one that aims squarely at pleasing the guys in the suits, and nearly nobody else who is outside their brainwashed world.

Self-adulation of a brand, or a model, is the surest way of making any audience cynical of your credibility and intent.

Everybody says they’re the best.


It takes more than that to get the point across. In the case of the spastic dancing Corolla commercial, they could have used a canine, a cane, and a Clapton… and maybe some cocaine from the 70′s.

That would do the trick.



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Editorial: Unrealistic Timelines At Cadillac Mon, 11 Nov 2013 15:31:06 +0000 ATS-front-quarter-550x412

Readers of our departed EIC’s chronicles will no doubt understand that building a luxury brand is a gradual, concentrated effort that won’t bear fruit for many years. Over at Audi, it took Herr Schmitt and Herr Piech the better part of two decades to morph Audi from an oddball line of tarted up Volkswagens into a global luxury player, and that journey was not without its own mishaps.

Audi wasn’t the only one to trudge down that road either. Bob Lutz’s latest book recalls the genesis of the BMW naming convention (naming their cars the 3, 5 and 7-Series), arguably the start of their rise from, well, an oddball line of Bavarian built cars into one of the auto industry’s blue-chip luxury car makers.

So who is Uwe Ellinghaus, Cadillac’s new marketing chief (an ex-BMW man) to think that building Cadillac into a global luxury brand will take about 10 years? Cadillac’s main markets right now are America and China, with the two countries accounting for about 90 percent of sales. Even so, Cadillac is badly outgunned in America, with Mercedes-Benz and BMW (and Lexus as well) each doing roughly one-and-a-half times the volume that Cadillac does in its home market. In China, supposedly Cadillac’s second most important market, Audi is outselling Cadillac by roughly 10 to 1. In Europe, Cadillac is a non-entity, selling just 2,274 cars in 2012.

The idea that Cadillac will be a global player in the luxury car world in as little as 10 years is at worst a fantasy, at best a demonstration of profound ignorance. As a former BMW marketing exec, Ellinghaus should know that Cadillac lacks key products (like a small crossover, a proper flagship and diesel engines) needed to compete in the all important European market, and that competitors like Lexus have yet to crack the “global” part of the equation despite arguably having a higher profile in the luxury world.

The best summation of the entire situation comes from TTAC commenter edgett

This is American marketing at its worst. The idea that the content of the product is overcome, or recreated, at the hand of “branding” is how they got into this in the first place. What if the brand identity for Cadillac became “The Standard of the World”, and they spent all of their “branding” money on creating a product which epitomized that identity?


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Did Ron Burgundy Really Help Move Durangos? Fri, 08 Nov 2013 15:56:18 +0000 Durango-side-550x412

There’s nothing the internet loves more than some good clickbait, and the hype surrounding Dodge’s ads featuring Ron Burgundy, star of the Anchorman movies, and the Durango CUV, are perfect fodder for this type of content. Web publications like Mashable, along with numerous auto blogs, have run articles cliaming that the Anchorman-themed ads have caused Durango sales to “skyrocket”. But as Tim Cain shows us, correlation does not necessarily equal causation. Durango sales have been on the rise for some time now. But never let the facts get in the way of a good story.

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Acura Pitchman Jerry Seinfeld: Car Advertising “Too Commercial-y”. Really? Fri, 04 Oct 2013 20:17:57 +0000

Click here to view the embedded video.

In a rather promotional feeling interview with Bloomberg, comedian and noted car collector Jerry Seinfeld discusses his growing relationship with Honda Motor’s Acura brand. Last year’s Super Bowl featured an ad for the upcoming revival of the NSX sports car scripted by Seinfeld himself, with a cameo from Jay Leno, riffing off of the two comics’ reputation as serious collectors. More recently Acura has become the sole sponsor of Seinfelds popular “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” webcasts. Jerry told the news agency that in general he’s not a fan of car advertising.

Seinfeld said, “For the most part, car advertising is a total turnoff to the consumer; I think it needs a complete reboot. It’s too commercial-y and fear-based. Stop showing us the cars driving through the desert.”

Seinfeld thinks that auto companies shouldn’t focus on product in their advertising, but rather getting consumers to like them.

“Don’t sell me your product, sell me you,” said Seinfeld. “You’re trying to make people like you. You don’t have to sell them your product. You have to make them like you.”

So if Jerry doesn’t like how automotive advertising is “too commercial-y” one can’t help but wonder if the wisecracking comedian has offered his opinion to Acura on their high concept “Made for Mankind” commercial that somehow equates owning a MDX crossover with humanity’s eternal quest for knowledge and adventure. I suppose that it sort of fits into Seinfeld’s notion of selling the brand, not the product, but the ad takes itself so sonorously seriously, that it’s easy to imagine Jerry’s reaction to something like “If your quest is to built the world’s smartest luxury SUV for mankind, you must hold yourself to the standard of mankind”. Really?

Click here to view the embedded video.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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Justification for Higher Education, the Erosion of the Enthusiast Market, and Wholesome Whoring Tue, 17 Sep 2013 16:10:49 +0000  


I still remember the day my parents bought me a copy of the iconic Justification for Higher Education poster.  I had been nagging them for a while, and when I finally got the poster, it took immediate pride of place in my childhood bedroom.  Having matured, I recognize now that the imagery depicts a lifestyle unlikely to be the preserve of the highly educated, but instead that of a lottery winner.  Didn’t matter then, and it doesn’t matter today; the now ratty old poster followed me to college and again to my grown-up domicile.

In retrospect it’s a bit strange that I had the poster in college; residing in the middle of nowhere with no meaningful income, afflicted by terrible weather, and living under the thumb of an overzealous local police force due to strained town-gown relations, it was a bit difficult for me to maintain my passionate appreciation for automobiles during my tenure in Lexington, Virginia.  About halfway through my collegiate career, the majority of which constituted pre-sinecure studies under the auspices of a liberal arts education, I had the opportunity to take an economics elective entitled “Economics of the Automotive Industry.”  Although the professor had an intimidating reputation – an uncanny resemblance to Larry Ellison, a brace of Ivy League degrees, a fearsome ability to decimate GPAs, and remarkable loquaciousness during office hours, ensuring that every visit did indeed last for hours – I decided to take the course anyway.

Besides, I probably already knew everything we’d cover anyway, right?  In a word, no.

I came into the course in the spring of 2009 with an essentially encyclopedic knowledge of every sliver of ink spilled over the past decade in any automotive publication available at Barnes & Noble, and most ones and zeros dedicated to the subject, as well.  I faced a sudden realization that this “knowledge” would be a hindrance rather than a leg up, and that I needed to start thinking critically and reading Automotive News instead of Evo if I wanted to do well in the course.

I learned, begrudgingly, that the car business is just that, a business.  Rather than altruistic benefactors pumping out titillating metal to thrill internet fanboi bench racers who are only occasional purchasers, automakers exist to provide a return on their owners’ invested capital, period.  In the wake of the financial crisis, the business case for vanity projects with a tenuous, at best, connection to the remainder of an OEM’s model line is still somewhat problematic.

In addition to the high visibility, high name recognition manufacturers, the industry – when broadly construed – has tentacles encompassing a major portion of the domestic economy, including suppliers and distributors, with far-reaching labor market consequences.  My classmates and I were forced to confront the conundrum of vertical coordination, the difficulties of product planning given exceptionally lengthy lead and development timelines – not to mention evolving regulatory, safety, and emissions targets – as well as the economies of scale characteristic of a global durable goods industry.

Consider all of these factors in light of dynamic exchange rates and the boom-bust business cycle, and it’s no wonder that automakers seem unconcerned about appeasing the peanut gallery of enthusiasts.  My parents paid lots of money for me to receive this wisdom, but you can acquire it relatively cheaply if you’re willing to learn some basic economics, read a little, and disavow your personal sacred cows – just like this guy; I suppose it may be somewhat difficult to, uh, justify this particular aspect of my education.

The traditionally “enthusiast” manufacturers face even more difficulties; they have the option to adapt, evolve, expand, and grow, with the caveat of potentially enraging the existing, enthusiastic customer base and exposing themselves to more mainstream competition, or they can opt toward stubborn stagnation, arresting forward progress while the proverbial doting family calls the hospice.

Although there are several successful practitioners, the former strategy is exemplified by – of course – Porsche; but for the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad 986 Boxster and 996 911, as well as the Cayenne and Panamera, the company probably wouldn’t exist anymore.  The latter strategy is probably best exhibited by Lotus, whose slow-motion snuff film has recently been protracted once more.  Despite the best efforts of now-deposed CEO Dany Bahar to jump-start the company, broaden the product offerings, and make the Lotus badge a viable economic contender for the 21st century, alleged expense indiscretions left him persona non grata in Hethel.  Now all of his ambitious plans have been scrapped, and Lotus remains a paragon of purity, with plans to produce only sporting, enthusiast-oriented cars for the foreseeable future.  Any perceived moral victories will also be Pyrrhic; nothing fundamental about the company has changed, but the marketplace in which it competes has.

So what can Lotus do?  Can they sell out just a little bit and not compromise the brand’s ideals?  Perhaps Lotus can move toward survival by whoring itself wholesomely while not tarnishing its existing reputation.  The engineering arm of Lotus has enjoyed many associations over the years, some more favorable than others.  Tinkerers as diverse as Hennessey and Tesla have borrowed liberally from Lotus’s chassis cookie jar in recent years, and there is a long list of ordinary cars that sought to import a bit of cachet, touting “Handling by Lotus.”


To ensure its long-term survival, Lotus has to find a viable business plan somewhere between pinch-hitting for other sports car manufacturers and pimping its name out on  work-a-day sleds.  Best of luck.

A special thanks to Mike Smitka, one of my favorite collegiate professors, for forcing me to examine my hobby dispassionately and rationally.  I am fortunate to have had his guidance in conducting an atypical senior year project, as well as his continued input on my career and my passions as an alumnus.  His musings about the automotive industry and related topics can be found here.

David Walton grew up in the North Georgia mountains before moving to Virginia to study Economics, Classics, and Natural Light at Washington and Lee University.  Post-graduation, he returned to his home state to work in the financial services industry in Atlanta.  A lifelong automotive enthusiast, particular interests include (old) Porsches and sports car racing.

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Is Making Cadillac “More Accessible” a Flawed Strategy? Wed, 04 Sep 2013 12:00:05 +0000 img_0381

Peter DeLorenzo is one of my favorite automotive writers. After decades working in automotive advertising and writing about cars and the auto industry, along with deep family ties to General Motors upper echelon, Peter brings the right combination of knowledge and cynicism to the topic we love. Also, contrary to his gruff and curmudgeonly public persona, he’s been very gracious to this neophyte writer. I start looking for his regular Wednesday updates on his Autoextremist site on Monday nights, since he sometimes posts ahead of schedule. This week, Peter takes Cadillac and Interpublic Agency – Team Rogue, to task for how they are repositioning the Cadillac brand, moving away from what had been a return to “The Standard of the World” mentality to one more in tune, according to Ad Age, with “Work hard. Be lucky”, making the brand seem more-accessible. Peter sees that slogan and accessibility as at odds with making Cadillac a “desirable” brand. With all due respect, I think DeLorenzo is getting this half right.


1957 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham – 2012 Eyes On Design Show

While I agree that abandoning the return to The Standard of the World is a mistake, I think that Peter’s wrong about it being an error making Cadillac seem “more accessible” to people who have worked hard and want to enjoy the fruits of their efforts. While the “Work hard. Be lucky” tagline isn’t the most elegant, it’s an implicit reference to the old saying, “the harder that I work, the luckier that I get.” The tagline, whether or not it is actually used, that’s still being debated, just might work with genuinely successful people.

The Ad Age piece talks about moving away from “ads for wealthy white guys” that focus on features and instead relying more on emotion. While DeLorenzo sees “more accessible” as cheapening the brand, I see it as a return to the brand’s true consumer image during its glory days. For something to be truly desirable, I think it still has to be seen as somehow attainable. Our desires often conform to hard reality. For something to be truly aspirational, it must be at least theoretically accessible, the reward for hard work. One’s reach should exceed one’s grasp and all that, but we do like the brass rings that we can grasp to be wrapped in hand stitched leather.


1957 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham – 2012 Eyes On Design show

Sure, the Rogues @ iNterpublic, or whatever the joint agency is called, may be screwing Cadillac’s pooch and cheapening the brand, but remember, Elvis Presley, the truck driver who made it big, was the company’s most famous customer when it was at the top of the heap, not some highfalutin’ opera singer.


1958 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham – 2013 St. John’s Auction, RM Auctions

In the brand’s heyday, the 1950s and early 1960s, Cadillac was *the* aspirational brand, the car for the man who made it. Inherited wealth might drive European cars, but successful Americans drove Caddys.  The word “success” implies achievement, earning something.  Cadillac was the car that people who dreamed of making it dreamed of driving. This occurred to me when I was putting together a piece for TTAC on the Nash Metropolitan and I decided to include a YouTube video of the “Beep Beep – Little Nash Rambler” song. There’s a lyric in there that I think sums up Cadillac’s brand image during its glory days, the 1950s, “I’ll show him that a Cadillac is not a car to scorn”. People who drove Cadillacs were proud of their success. If they wanted something less ostentatious, they’d be driving Buicks. It seems to me that Alfred Sloan’s hierarchy of brands was integrally linked to economic mobility, people becoming more successful and affluent over time. Cadillac was the top rung of the ladder of success.


1958 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham – 2013 St. John’s Auction, RM Auctions

I was just at a Pierce Arrow meet held at the Gilmore Car Museum. A number of Peerless owners also brought their cars. Those two brands were two of the “Three Ps”, Pierce Arrow, Peerless, and Packard, that dominated the American luxury car segment in the classic car era. While it’s always an easy way to go broke selling cars to rich folks, the Great Depression made it even easier and of the Three Ps only Packard survived the 1930s. It’s conventional wisdom to blame Packard’s ultimate demise two decades later on its Depression era move to more mass market cars. Selling the “junior” Packards and later the Clipper line is seen as tainting Packard as a high end luxury maker, allowing Cadillac to surpass it. That conventional wisdom ignores the reality that those moves kept Packard in business, surviving the other two Ps. It also ignores Packard’s financial weakness, delaying new models and a modern OHV V8, just as Cadillac introduced their own high compression V8 and had the resources to restyle every year. Packard failed for a lot of reasons but one of those reasons isn’t the fact that they sold a lot of cars to upper middle class Americans.

There are many failed luxury car brands. Pierce Arrow and Peerless cars at the Gilmore Car Museum, August 2013

There are many failed luxury car brands. Pierce Arrow and Peerless cars at the Gilmore Car Museum, August 2013. Note the Herbert Dawley designed headlights integrated into the fenders, a Pierce Arrow signature (in those jurisdictions that permitted them).

It seems to me that what Packard did was actually very similar to what Sloan and Harley Earl did to Cadillac in the immediate pre-war era. GM essentially turned Cadillac into what LaSalle had been, moving away from things like selling V16 chassis sold to very wealthy customers who would either order a custom body from the Fleetwood catalog or have the new car shopped to a coachbuilder. I don’t think that it’s coincidental that the first car that Earl styled for GM was a LaSalle and that his name graces many design patents issued for the brand. Earl knew that the classic era was over. Earl protege Bill Mitchell’s seminal 1938 Sixty Special car was based on Cadillac’s cheapest car line.

Sure, Cadillac continued to sell some very expensive cars, but the more-expensive-than-Rolls-Royce late ’50s Eldorado Brougham was an outlier, an attempt to show Ford that they could lose even more money per car on a hand assembled ultra-lux vehicle than Ford lost on the Continental Mark II. When the Cadillac division was really cranking ‘em out, the DeVille was Cadillac’s biggest seller, and biggest moneymaker, not the more expensive cars.

Peter DeLorenzo does have a point. Going too far downmarket hasn’t been successful for the Cadillac brand. Of course there was the barely disguised Chevy Cavalier sold as the Cimarron, but also in the 1960s and early 1970s, Cadillac offered the Calais, an entry level Cadillac, much truer to the Cadillac brand than the Cimarron but still cheaper than the DeVille. Though it was less expensive, the Calais was widely outsold by the DeVille. Cadillac’s brand apparently finds its sweet spot somewhere between “entry level luxury” and ne plus ultra cars that cost more than most homes.

So there’s nothing wrong with making Cadillac an aspirational brand or even accessible, just so long as they don’t make it too accessible. American luxury has rarely been about rarefied exclusivity. There are more people who want to be rich than people who are rich. There’s probably room in the Cadillac lineup for a Ciel or Elmiraj at the high end (just as there was for the Eldorado Brougham, luxury marques do need flagships as well as big sellers) as long as people who can afford them know the ATS, CTS and SRX are within their means.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS img_0420 img_0268 img_0269 img_0270 img_0271 img_0311 img_0312 img_0329 img_0379 img_0379a img_0380 img_0381 img_0382 img_0383 img_0384 img_0418 img_0418a img_0419 IMG_0540 IMG_0481 IMG_0482 IMG_0483 IMG_0484 IMG_0485 IMG_0535 IMG_0536 IMG_0537 IMG_0538 IMG_0539

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Get a Whiff of Lincoln’s New Marketing Scheme Wed, 28 Aug 2013 12:00:27 +0000 AE_AFS_Lincoln3

                 In a push to get younger consumers into dealerships, Lincoln has undertaken a crash rebranding program. Ford is pushing dealers to upgrade facilities, as well as retraining sales staff in the lingo of “progressive luxury.” Chic furniture and flatscreens are some of the stereotypical dealership improvements that Lincoln hopes to persuade dealers to implement. But there’s one initiative that’s certainly out of the ordinary: the creation of a Lincoln-specific scent, to be wafted through dealerships.

                Dee-Ann Durbin of AP covered the Chicago conference where Lincoln marketing gurus attempted to inculcate the assembled salespeople with the values of “progressive luxury.” Wearing animal print bathrobes, tasting flavor-infused salt, and sitting in luxurious chairs were just some of the activities designed to attune salespeople to the sensitivities of the moneyed yuppies breaking down the doors of Lincoln dealerships across the nation. The scent- described as “a fresh-smelling blend of Earl Grey tea, jasmine and orange flowers”- is part of the wider package. There are an endless number of jokes about the true scent of Lincoln to be made here (Aquanet and embalming fluid come to mind), but I’ll defer to commenters in that regard. Ford wants dealers to install some method of projecting the handcrafted odor throughout dealerships, although the exact method of delivery is unclear. Will it be candles? Incense burners? Custom Glade Plug-Ins? The goal is that customers will “memorize” the scent as intrinsic to the Lincoln brand identity, bringing them back for more huffs and more sales.

                The website for consultant group Business Voice, the firm responsible for distributing the new initiative, goes into greater detail about the goals and the logic behind the Lincoln Scent. As the blurb points out, scent marketing isn’t a new idea. We all know that a Godiva store is supposed to smell like overpriced chocolate and that Abercrombie and Fitch douses everything in Extract of California or whatever their signature cologne is called. In a similar vein, Business Voice acknowledges the importance of “new car smell:” “It’s part of our culture’s collective awareness.”  This brings up an excellent point: new car smell is valued because it’s a universally understood status symbol.

                In fact, it might just be what keeps the entire industry afloat. That intoxicating aroma of outgassing plastics, drying glues, fresh fluids, and newly installed rubber fittings has pushed many a wavering car shopper over the edge.  In an era when even consumers of extremely modest means can afford “luxury” colognes and perfumes, new car smell remains attractively dear. There are lots of people that can scrape together $100 for a bottle of Gucci or Polo or other vial of flammable liquids, but comparatively few that can sign off on a new car lease or loan. Sure, the difference in smell between a Versa and an S-Class isn’t radical. But it still shows that you’re wealthy enough right now to drive this year’s model, regardless of what class you might be buying in.  Given the universally accepted importance of the new car smell to consumers, why do anything to cover it up? This smacks of an answer to a question that nobody asked.

                The other point to consider is that luxury car showrooms are not like stores at the mall. For the most part, they are not areas for casual wandering and browsing. They don’t rely on $2.99 impulse buys like Cinnabon or Bath and Body Works. They’re stores that sell high-dollar, high-importance products to adults with significant resources. A classy interior and a slick sales staff can go a long way towards facilitating these purchases, but they aren’t what bring customers into dealers in the first place. Attractive products, competently marketed, under desirable brand names, are what keep luxury dealers in business. Rebuilding the Lincoln brand name will have to rest on stronger foundations than a pleasant scent.  

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