Posts tagged ‘Fiat’


Capturing a buyer: some advice to Renault New Zealand

01.01.2019

2017 Renault Captur

On this Pope Gregory Arbitrary Calendar Start Day, I wrote to a contact of mine at Renault New Zealand.
   In mid-2018, I joked that, since Renault had no dealers in Wellington (never mind what’s listed on their website—the only people who can see a dealer there are psychic mediums), I could sell them out of my house.
   Today, I may well have gone some way toward doing that, as someone I know would like a test drive of a first-gen Captur after I put it into her consideration set. After all, I put my money where my mouth is with Renault, so when I recommend one, I do so with some authority.
   In the same note, I detailed some observations about Renault New Zealand’s marketing. I have since forwarded it to their top man in the country.

   • Renault NZ’s marketing has been really stop–start over the years. Every time it feels like there’s a revival, there’s a ra-ra moment that lasts a few months, then nada. Just in the last decade and a half I can think of Clio IIIs being pushed, including a giveaway in the Herald, and the price was right, then nothing. There was some talk about pushing the Mégane III at the turn of the decade, and again it fizzled out. (You may know that in 2010, IIRC, Renault sold 14 cars that year.) The Instagram account itself is an example of a flurry of activity, then it goes quiet for ages.
   • I know within the group there are other brands that management see as more profitable, but I see massive untapped potential. You know you’ve got it right with Captur and Koleos: relative to the promo budget you are moving them, and that says the product is what Kiwis want. It’s worth investing in, and I reckon you should get fans like me, and the South Island club that’s quite active, to help you push it. Land Rover does well with its loyalists in Britain, and I think this is something Renault really needs to do—reach out to us and get some word of mouth going. If I have got you one sale already, there are many others who’d do the same.
   • Kiwis want to see continuity in model lines, which is why the Auris never became the Auris here—Toyota NZ was smart enough to keep the Corolla name going. Fiat’s fatal mistake is letting so many model lines die: not that long ago, it killed every passenger car range in New Zealand in favour of just the 500. Loyalists who bought Bravos and Puntos had nothing to trade to. When the Punto came back—actually a totally different car and a far less advanced Indian import—the goodwill had gone. There’s the same danger here with all those old Mégane, Scénic and Clio buyers of the 2000s. There aren’t many as loyal as me who take matters into their own hands and do a private import. So do think about continuing some lines. Captur will get your Clio buyers, but us Mégane ones have nowhere to go. Fluence was a flop (eight in NZ all up?) but as heated as the C-segment is, not everyone wants a Corolla, 3 or Golf. It might still be worth bringing in lesser Méganes, and the wagon will get those lifestyle buyers. A well-specced wagon would actually have very few rivals in NZ, if pricing and marketing are right (again, get the fans involved). Alaskan will work—but only if we truly see that Renault is here to stay.

   I concluded all that with, ‘And I reckon Hiroto Saikawa is dodgy and he was trying to cover up his own incompetence by framing his old boss and mentor. But that’s another story.’
   Even if I sold one car, I might become the city’s top Renault seller. ‘If you find a better car, buy it.’

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Posted in business, cars, marketing, New Zealand, Wellington | No Comments »


If FCA kills Chrysler today, then it’s another chapter of a company weakening its brands

01.06.2018

There’s a rumour circulating that Fiat (specifically, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, or FCA) will kill the Chrysler marque today.
   The range currently consists of two models: the ageing 300 and the relatively fresh Pacifica.
   It seems to be another step in the mismanagement of car marques, especially US ones, something I wrote about many years ago when Condé Nast Portfolio was still running. (Note: it was a published letter to the editor, not an article.)
   Marques do disappear, but when the wrong ones get killed off, long-term it leaves the company in a weaker state.
   DaimlerChrysler found that out in the early 2000s when it decided Plymouth was surplus to requirements. Suddenly, its entry-level budget brand was gone—a very bad move when the recession hit later that decade. Plymouth had been conceived as a low-priced line that kept Chrysler afloat during the Depression.
   DaimlerChrysler then found itself having to sell Plymouth products under the Chrysler marque, which was traditionally the priciest between Plymouth, Dodge and Chrysler.
   Today’s Chrysler resembles, at least in market ambition, the one of old, where it offers reasonably good quality vehicles, with Plymouth a distant memory.
   It also offers Fiat a relatively premium brand in the US market. It’s not Jeep, Ram or Dodge, all of which have very different brands, messages and brand equity.
   The fact it is light on product could have been solved long ago if Fiat had adopted the sort of platform-sharing that is now commonplace in the car world—you only have to look at Volkswagen and the Renault–Nissan Alliance, now Renault Nissan Mitsubishi. Even Jaguar Land Rover is realizing economies of scale with Jaguar SUVs and a car-like Range Rover (the Velar).
   While Chrysler found that the 200 had flopped, there was always room for a premium, American SUV to take over from the Aspen, for example. If Jeep can build SUVs on Punto and Giulietta platforms, why couldn’t Chrysler, aimed at very different buyers?
   The truth is that Fiat has a very confusing platform strategy, something I alluded to in earlier posts both here and in Drivetribe, and there appear to be no signs of bringing any harmony to the mess.
   The firm hasn’t been properly merged, and not enough thought has been given to reducing platforms, and sharing them between marques. There’s more in common on this front between Fiat and British Leyland than between Fiat and Volkswagen, which it once vied with to be Europe’s number-one.
   The domestic range has cars on platforms shared with Ford, Chrysler and GM, not to mention OEM vehicles from Mazda, Mitsubishi and Peugeot. I might not love SUVs, but the public does, and the Fiat range is light on them. There’s not enough of a global effort, either: the Ottimo and Viaggio are Italian-styled, based on the Alfa Romeo Giulietta (or more specifically the Dodge Dart), and they are only sold in China—a ridiculous situation when Fiat doesn’t have a CD-segment saloon in any other market. The rationalization of the range in South America has helped, with the Argo and Cronos streamlining a confusing array of Palio, Linea, Siena and Grand Siena models, but they bear little resemblance to the models on offer in Europe.
   Lancia, which had benefited from Fiat platforms, is practically dead, its 500-based, Polish-made Ypsilon being deleted this year. As models at Lancia died out, they were not replaced. Yet things could have been so much better, had Fiat allowed Lancia the sort of freedom it needed to sell Italian luxury and innovation. Those values are different from Alfa Romeo’s, yet through its conduct, Fiat seems to think that if Alfa and Lancia have similar prices, then they must vie for similar buyers. They never did. It seems to believe that costs will be saved through axing marques and model lines, which can be true in some cases—but those cases tend to presume that what remains, or what replaces them, is stronger.
   I’m not being a Luddite or pining for the “good old days” when it comes to Chrysler. I hold no romantic notions for the brand. But I do know that once they’re gone, the firm doesn’t necessarily find its resources are freed up to pursue surviving lines. It finds that it’s lost a segment that it once fielded.
   It’s sadder to realize that Chrysler, as a group, was much stronger in the early 1990s, with record development times and good platform-sharing. Plymouth was in the process of developing its own identity—the PT Cruiser and Prowler heralded a new retromodern design language that was to spread throughout the range, while utilizing the same platforms as Chryslers and Dodges.
   Fiat itself, too, was a strong company at this same period, riding high on great styling, with a reinvigorated line-up. Think Bravo, Brava, Barchetta, Coupé Fiat, 456, Quattroporte, Delta, Dedra, Kappa, 145, 146, GTV and Spider. A lot of these vehicles were talked-about, and considered some of the most stylish in Europe.
   Last year, in Europe, luxury marques Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi all outsold Fiat, supposedly a mass-market brand. Its market share in Italy and Brazil, traditionally places where it was strong, has continued to dip.
   In the US, it’s the same story, with Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi all outselling Chrysler both last year and year-to-date.
   It’s all very romantic, and good press, to show off premium Alfa Romeos and Maseratis, or money-making Jeeps, but many of these models don’t donate any of their architecture to Fiat’s troubled brands.
   In 2018, when you see that certain Fiat marques aren’t getting access to platforms, you have to wonder why—especially when so many other big players don’t place such restrictions on their brands.
   A new 500 and Panda might be around the corner, but we’ll need to see far more logic applied to the business, especially with Alfa’s Mito and Giulietta looking more dated, Fiat’s range in a mess, and Chrysler barely making an effort in China, a market where its sort of positioning would have attracted luxury-conscious buyers who might prefer foreign brands, such as Buick.
   Even if Chrysler gets a stay of execution, Sergio Marchionne’s successor will have a very tough job ahead.

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Posted in branding, business, cars, China, marketing, USA | No Comments »


Mitsubishi’s latest scandal: enough to shake it right out of the passenger-car market?

26.04.2016


Above: The Mitsubishi eK Wagon, one of the cars at the centre of the company’s latest scandal.

One thing about creating and running Autocade is that you gain an appreciation for corporate history. Recently, I blogged about Fiat, and the troubles the company is in; it wasn’t that long ago that Fiat was the designers’ darling, the company known for creating incredibly stylish vehicles for all its brands and showing how you could use Italian flair to generate sales.
   That was the 1990s; by the turn of the century, Fiat had lost some of its mojo, and by the time I got to Milano in the early 2000s, the taxi ranks had plenty of German and French cars. Once upon a time, they would have been nearly exclusively Italian. Today, a lot of Fiat’s range is either made by, or on platforms shared with, Ford, GM, Chrysler (which it now owns), Peugeot, Mitsubishi and Mazda. Sharing platforms isn’t a sin, but a necessity, but Fiat seems to have taken it to a new level, looking like a OEM brand whose logo is freely slapped on others’ products.
   Mitsubishi is the other car company to find itself in trouble in recent weeks. The company admitted that it had lied about the fuel economy figures for its kei cars, the micro-cars that it sells predominantly in Japan.
   It wasn’t as troublesome as Volkswagen’s defeat device which fooled the US EPA, running differently when it knew the engine was being tested. Mitsubishi kept things simple, and overinflated tyre pressures.
   It would have got away with it, too, if it weren’t for Nissan, a company to which Mitsubishi supplied, under an OEM deal, kei cars. The customer started to ask questions and tested the cars for itself.
   Mitsubishi had supplied 468,000 cars to Nissan, all of which are affected. It had only sold 157,000 under its own marque. Production of the cars, from the eK range, and the OEM equivalent for Nissan, the Dayz, is now suspended, while Mitsubishi’s shares plunged 15 per cent on the news last week.
   Sankei, the Japanese newspaper, believes that Mitsubishi used the wrong test method on the I-MIEV electric car, RVR (ASX), Outlander, and Pajero, which are exported.
   You have to wonder what the corporate culture must be like for these matters to recur so regularly. But then, collectively, people tend to forget very rapidly, and companies like Volkswagen and Mitsubishi must bank on these.
   VW isn’t the first to cheat the EPA—US car makers have attempted less sophisticated defeat devices in the latter half of the 20th century—though it has had a chequered past. Just over 10 years ago, there was a scandal involving VW colluding with a union leader to keep wage demands down, and a few low-level employees took the rap. Go back to the 1980s and the company found itself in a foreign exchange scandal. But these were known mainly among specialist circles, principally those following car industry news.
   Mitsubishi’s scandals, meanwhile, were more severe in terms of the headlines generated. Last decade, when the media called Mitsubishi Japan’s fourth-largest car maker—these days they call it the sixth—the company was implicated in a cover-up over the safety of its vehicles. Japanese authorities raided the company in 2004, and revealed that Mitsubishi Motors Corp. hid defects that affected 800,000 vehicles, and had done so since 1977. Nearly a million vehicles were recalled. Affected vehicles were sold domestically as well as in Europe and Asia. Top execs were arrested that time, including the company president, although it was hard under Japanese law to punish Mitsubishi severely. There was no disincentive to conducting business as usual. The company was ultimately bailed out by its parent, the giant Mitsubishi Group, when it found itself facing potential bankruptcy.
   People were killed as a result of Mitsubishi’s cover-ups, and at the time it was considered one of the biggest corporate scandals in Japan.
   Go back a bit further and Mitsubishi Materials Corp., a related company, had used slave labour in World War II, including US troops—something the company did not apologize for till 2015, even though the Japanese government itself had issued apologies in 2009 and 2010. While it was a first among Japanese corporations, and US POWs got what they had long awaited, descendants of Chinese slave labourers still have a lawsuit pending against a connected Mitsubishi subsidiary.
   The other major difference between Volkswagen and Mitsubishi is that the Japanese marque is relatively weak in terms of covering its market segments. It’s SUV- and truck-heavy, and its kei cars had sold well (till now), but it has little in the passenger car segments, which it had once fielded strongly. The Mirage (and the booted Attrage) and the Galant Fortis (exported as the Lancer to many markets) are what’s left: the latter is now nine years old, though still fairly competitive, and in desperate need of replacement. Its only other car is its Taiwan-only Colt Plus, still selling there as an entry-level model despite having been withdrawn from every other market. In the big-car segments, Mitsubishi is actually supplied by Nissan in Japan, but doesn’t make its own any more. ‘Sixth-largest’ is shorthand for third-smallest, at least among the big Japanese car companies.
   Mitsubishi looks set to quit the C-segment (Galant Fortis) since neither Renault nor Nissan, which it had approached, wanted a tie-up. And the company survives on tie-ups for economies of scale, and there’s now a big question mark over whether potential partners want to work with it. Automotive News’s Hans Greimel questions whether the Mitsubishi–Fiat truck deal will go ahead (though I had thought it was an inked fait accompli).
   But, most seriously, Mitsubishi hasn’t completely recovered from its earlier scandal.
   It is within living memory, and the timing and nature of the latest one, tying so closely to what rocked Volkswagen, ensured that it would get global press again, even if the bulk of the affected cars were only sold domestically. And when consumers see a pattern, they begin wondering if there’s a toxic corporate culture at play here.
   We’re too connected in 2016 not to know, and while Mitsubishi is likely to be bailed out again, it will face the prospect of shrinking car sales—and sooner or later one will have to question whether the company will stay in the passenger-car business. Isuzu exited in the 1990s, focusing on SUVs, pick-ups and heavy trucks, forced by an economic downturn. Since Mitsubishi’s own portfolio is looking similarly weighted, it wouldn’t surprise me if it chose to follow suit, its brand too tarnished, with too little brand equity, to continue.

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Posted in branding, business, cars, culture, marketing | 1 Comment »


How will things play out at Fiat?

02.04.2016


Above: The current Fiat 500. A year shy of its 10th anniversary, is it still cool in 2016?

The Detroit News reports that Fiat has been having trouble Stateside, with dealers now permitted to sell the cars alongside Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge and Ram instead of at stand-alone showrooms.
   It’s been worrying seeing Fiat’s plans unfold since it decided to take control of Chrysler, a firm that was once the darling of the US car industry, with its industry-leading R&D times, to one that was starved of investment in the 2000s.
   Those initial plans, sold as a long-term strategy, turned out to be a short-term Band-Aid. With hindsight, maybe it wasn’t too much of a surprise, since Fiat was still grappling with understanding just what it was taking on.
   Fiat needed to do something given that things at home weren’t looking too good, with a model range that wasn’t very cohesive, and with its entries into the Chinese market having faltered a few times. To the casual observer, Fiat saved Chrysler, but there’s some truth in saying that having the company that controls the Jeep brand was a lifeline to Fiat itself.
   What we’ve seen since those days was the failure of the strategy of twinning Chrysler and Lancia. While this was a marriage of convenience, I could see this having some long-term gains with Lancia focusing on smaller cars and Chrysler on larger ones, but the result in 2016 is that Lancia has been reduced to an Italy-only marque, the equivalent of what Autobianchi was a few decades ago. Once the Ypsilon is deleted, then Lancia is consigned to the history books.
   The winner has been Alfa Romeo. It has only just returned to the junior executive segment with the new Giulia, after an absence of several years, and its 4C is a cracking sports car. Things are looking up, and rumours that Alfa and Dodge would be paired up in the same way Lancia and Chrysler were mercifully haven’t come true. The Giulia platform could be used for future models. Jeep has benefited from Fiat platforms, and Ram has gained some Fiat vans.
   But the parent brand, Fiat, has looked very uncertain for a while.
   For a start, there’s little uniformity globally. Fiat has the opportunity to offer the Viaggio and Ottimo in more places than China, slotting above the Ægea, for example. While having unique models for South America makes some sense, because of Fiat’s strength there, there’s an opportunity to globalize, with the Toro pick-up truck looking very appealing.
   Without having more of its self-developed products, the Fiat range in Europe doesn’t inspire too much confidence. While most manufacturers have one or two joint-venture models, Fiat’s range is almost exclusively made up of vehicles that have shared tech. The famous 500 and Panda are on a Fiat platform which has Chrysler input (before the takeover), and is shared with Ford for its B420 Ka. The Punto, 500X and 500L are on another platform shared with GM. The Doblò is also offered to GM. The Qubo is the product of a joint venture with Peugeot. The Freemont is a rebadged Dodge Journey from México, which Fiat gained after the takeover. The 124 Spider is based on the Mazda MX-5, and built in Japan by that firm. The Fullback pick-up is a Mitsubishi Triton twin and made in Thailand by that Japanese firm.
   Fiat, in other words, is holding down more relationships than Casanova.
   As a casual observer, there’s an opportunity for a massive streamlining of platforms, and offer more in-house models. That may well be happening, and let’s hope its current strategy is more long-term than its last.
   Secondly, as mentioned earlier, Fiat hasn’t had a great reputation of being able to carry out long-term sales’ strategies in many of its markets. Take New Zealand, for example, where Fiat was offering its (Grande) Punto and Bravo models, before it decided to pull everything and offer only the 500.
   The Punto has returned after a hiatus, this time as a budget model, along with the Tipo 139 Panda, but those who bought Puntos in the 2000s might think twice about returning to a company that abandoned them and offered no direct replacement for their car when it came to trading up.
   That lack of continuity could have some buyers worried, and Fiat needs to regain their trust in a big way.
   Being the Five Hundred Car Company, which Fiat certainly was in the US, cannot help, if buyers expect Fiat to offer more. We’ve seen it fail here, and Fiat’s had to back-track. Even in Hong Kong, where Fiat had also been reduced to flogging only the 500, it has had to add the Freemont.
   Fiat will argue that as it had been absent from North America for so long, it could re-enter the market-place with a single, fashionable model: after all, Mini and Smart have done.
   The trouble is that Fiat isn’t known as a niche brand: there was enough in the US media to indicate that this was an Italian giant, and the perception of such a large company didn’t gel with it offering a niche range anywhere. It lacked the cachet of a brand that was created to be fashionable and funky from the outset. You just can’t do it when that’s the name of the owner (think: can you sell “cool” cars with GM as the brand—that had been tried in New Zealand and failed dismally; or, going back a generation, Leyland? Volkswagen surely is the sole exception with its Beetle), and FCA, which the parent company is called, isn’t a consumer-facing brand. It’s just a company name with no brand equity.
   In the same vein, average punters might not know of BMW’s connection with Mini, or Daimler AG’s connection with Smart. They stand alone with plenty of brand equity, helped by identifiable products, and, in Mini’s case, even helped by its image outside North America.
   I also question whether the 500X and 500L are cute cars in the same vein as the original 500. Getting Ben Stiller’s Derek Zoolander character to advertise the 500X seemed good in theory—till it dawned on the public that the new Zoolander film was a bit naff, cashing in on last-decade nostalgia. I’m not a fan of retro design, either, and I would have hoped that Fiat would have renewed its 500 by now, since we’re on to newer versions of the Beetle, Mini, and Smart. It’s no surprise that Fiat sales are down 14·6 per cent so far this year.
   If Toyota could not sustain Scion with all its muscle, then Fiat retail really should be integrated into dealerships selling Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Ram Stateside. And I’d argue that Scion couldn’t remain because the brand had lost its coolness among the college kids who bought the XB in the first place. Buyers in this consumerist game, and at the fashion end it is more a game than in any other, are notoriously fickle.
   I don’t know how it’s going to play out. Fiat’s a brand I’ve grown up with, and I’ve been visiting their dealerships since I was two years old. Back in the 1970s the showroom in Homantin, Kowloon had everything from 127s to 130s. Fiat was doing a brisk trade on 124s. I came close to buying various Fiat Group cars over the years, including a Tipo and a Lancia Delta, and more recently I had considered Alfa Romeo Mitos and Giuliettas. I briefly toyed with importing a Tipo 844 Lancia Delta from the UK badged as a Chrysler, but decided having a $75 1:43-scale one was enough.
   To see Lancia decimated and now on life support as Fiat concentrated on making Chrysler and Dodge work, to see the home brand filled with other people’s products in the interim, and to receive news that US buyers weren’t flocking to its showrooms in the same numbers any more, all make me concerned. Go to Italy and the taxi ranks no longer are dominated by Fiat Group cars: the cabbies have gone French and German. It’s all very well Maserati and Ferrari doing well but the former’s volumes won’t have a huge impact, while the latter has been separated and now has a different parent. The only continent where I think Fiat is making a decent bash of things is South America. I don’t want to paint a doom-and-gloom picture, not least because I have fondness for all the brands that now fall under the Fiat umbrella. But the weaknesses, at least to an outsider looking in, outnumber the strengths. My gut says Fiat will work through it all, but will it do it in a fast enough fashion, or is there more pain to come?

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Posted in branding, business, cars, China, globalization, marketing, USA | 2 Comments »


Dodge revives the Dart, while UK Delta owners revive Lancia

07.12.2011

Dodge Dart preview
Dodge Dart preview
Fiat has announced that it’s going to bring back the Dodge Dart nameplate on a compact sedan based on a stretched Alfa Romeo Giulietta platform for the 2013 model year.
   This was actually mentioned when Chrysler was going cap-in-hand to the US Government, so it’s not a total surprise. The nameplate, however, is.
   It makes sense to me, though if you look at some of the blog comments elsewhere, motorheads are coming out saying it should be used for a rear-wheel-drive sedan that captures the spirit of the original.
   The trouble is, it does. Dart was a compact beloved of schoolteachers, and even if the last one was a variant of the Dodge Diplomat sold in Spanish-speaking countries, enough time has passed for the general public not to be nostalgic for V8-powered Demons, Dart Sports and the like.
   It’s a compact sort of name, and it’s going after a general audience. And it looks too aggressive to be called Omni or Neon. A sporty little Dodge should be called Dart.
   I know that it could be very easily argued that the last time an American company resurrected a hallowed nameplate last sold in the US in the 1970s—the Pontiac GTO—and ignored the heritage, it was a sales’ disaster.
   But the Goat is legendary. Think back to the 1975 model year: did anyone really regard a basic Dart as legendary?
   We’ve already had a four-door sedan from Dodge called the Charger, the Polara name last wound up on a version of the Hillman Avenger down in Brazil, and the Chrysler New Yorker nameplate went on to a heap of different cars in the 1980s (R-body, M-body, E-body, C-body), so this isn’t exactly a company that has been looking after its heritage that well. I dare say the public is used to nameplates being recycled when it comes to Chrysler, sometimes for the better (300) and sometimes for the worse (it’ll be a long time before anyone brings Sebring back).
   The preview shots Dodge has revealed look aggressive, and since a designer is running the decals-and-flash show there, I suspect it wouldn’t look too bad.
   The other nameplate news of late, going in reverse chronological order, is the demise of Maybach. No surprises there, either: if you’re going to charge stratospheric prices for a car, it had better look stratospheric—not a rehash of a Mercedes-Benz S-Klasse. ’Nuff said.
   Finally, I’ve been meaning to blog about this little item for many weeks now: the rebadging of rebadged Lancias, if we might come full circle to Fiat.
   As many of you know, Lancias are sold as Chryslers in markets where Chrysler has a stronghold, while Chryslers are sold as Lancias where Lancia has a stronghold. That means, in Britain and Éire, the Lancia Ypsilon and Delta are sold as Chryslers.
   Car design, however, is no longer a matter of badge-engineering (even if there are certain segments where you can still get away with it, such as city cars and certain minivans). Everything about the design has to reflect the brand’s value. Cover up the grille of a Volvo, and it’s still a Volvo. But the Lancia design language is very Italian, and the Chrysler design language is very American, the insipid 200 aside.
   It is unfair to criticize Chrysler–Lancia given that these cars were penned before Fiat merged the brands, but I thought this customer-level rebranding exercise was a very interesting one on the part of Lancia fans in the UK and Éire.
   A group of enthusiasts located an Italian dealer who was willing to sell them a bunch of Lancia badges, so British and Irish owners could give their cars the complete Lancia treatment.
   It shows something I have talked about in many of my speeches: that brands are increasingly in the hands of the consumers.
   But it also shows that no matter what badge you put on the Ypsilon and Delta, they look Italian—and certain consumers want authenticity.
   Finally, it shows that in a globalized world, it’s no longer up to retailers to tell us what something is called. We have access to the ’net, and we can find out for ourselves. When it comes to cars, where there is a lot of online research, demand might start building from the moment scoop photographs are released. These Lancia enthusiasts have clearly wanted their RHD Deltas for a long time, and they have the means to make their dream come true, regardless of what the badge at the dealership says.

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Posted in branding, business, cars, design, marketing, USA | 1 Comment »


Another MG Rover gaffe: turning down the Fiat Stilo platform

22.05.2011

Robin Capper referred this to me, found on Autocar’s blog and penned by Hilton Holloway. I’ve only taken excerpts:

[A senior MG Rover insider] claims MG Rover bosses were offered a life raft shortly after they bought MG Rover for a tenner. Realising that Rover’s L-series diesel engine was hopelessly outclassed, they approached Fiat about buying in its JTD diesel.
   Fiat, the insider claims, came back with an amazing offer. MGR could have the diesel, but it could also license the Fiat Stilo platform. Fiat had installed at least double the capacity that the slow-selling Stilo needed and had capacity to spare.
   The fact that the Phoenix Four didn’t return Fiat’s call suggests that they never really intended to turn MGR around by their own efforts.

   I thought I had heard all the MG Rover débâcle stories, but evidently not. As far as shockers go, this is a big one. The one model that should have been replaced was the Rover 45, long past its sell-by date. Maybe hindsight is 20-20, and maybe at the time, the Phoenix Four still thought the RDX60 was going to save the day. However, given the urgency of fielding something competent in the C sector and the consolidation in the industry, you’d think accepting Fiat’s offer would be the most logical thing to do. (It’s not unprecedented, either: when Peugeot took over Chrysler Europe, the C9 and Sunbeam replacement were hurriedly put on to Peugeot platforms, despite advanced work on both.)
   The comments on the Autocar website are very good, too. Free from the crass junk that passes for comments on many automotive sites.
   Naturally, Keith Adams and AROnline beat us all in revealing this, ages ago.

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Posted in business, cars, design, UK | No Comments »


I remember 1973 more clearly than Sam Tyler

07.01.2010

I read a blog post tonight on my friend Jen’s Tumblr, about a memory that goes back to when she was about three or so. But she wondered if it was accurate.
   I believe it was, because for me, by age three I had over two years’ worth of memories. I have met two people in my life who can remember back, clearly, in a temporal, linear fashion, to before we were one. When we discuss this, our first comment to the other usually is, ‘No one believes you, do they?’
   Many doubt us, saying, ‘You must have heard that from your parents,’ or ‘You must have seen this in a photograph,’ until we start telling the stories.
   I wrote on Jen’s blog:

I have a few vague memories similar to this prior to nine months, and they are dream-like, almost like flashes. I assume the human mind does not string events together in a temporal fashion at earlier ages, so we recall them as unclear glimpses rather than moments that are anchored to past and future events on either side.

   I don’t know if studies have been done about this, about why those early memories are not stored. The above is only a theory, but I have a hunch it is right. We are not taught the concepts of past and future as babies, so we don’t store anything in a linear fashion. Why I began to earlier than most, I do not know. No single event triggered it.
   I usually tell people I began remembering when I was nine months old. That’s only a rough date, because at that age I had no concept of what a month was. The date does come from photographs, but that’s all I will give childhood photography. The rest is down to my own mind.
   The story that usually convinces people in regular conversation is this one: learning to walk. It was not my first memory—that was one of those “flashes” that I alluded to in the quote—nor was it the first one that I can trace right back. But I think most people will agree that getting on to your two feet should be quite a memorable event.
   I was a late walker and a happy shuffler. If we put the average baby learning to walk at around age one, then I was still shuffling at 15 months.
   My friend Tim, who remains in contact with me to this day, is younger than me by just over three months. His family came over to visit and he had just started walking. I believe I retold this to him when we were in our late 20s. Sadly, he does not remember it and cannot corroborate the events.
   I had already put up with encouragement to walk for ages (again, at this point, I had no concept of ‘months’, but it must have been) so, naturally, there was a lot of ‘Oh, look at Tim, he’s walking! Isn’t he a good boy?’
   My thought, because at this point I had attempted to walk (and fall) numerous times was: ‘This is peer pressure. I’m not doing it. Look, I can get across the room shuffling more quickly than he can walk. It’s safer, and it’s a known quantity. Just because everyone else is doesn’t mean I should, and so what if I don’t?’
   I should note that the thought was not structured as language, but as impulses, which, really, is the way most of us think. It’s only in recounting the event that we stretch it into comprehensible sentences. I also did not say this; if I did, it probably was as infantile babbles.
   And I could get across that room more quickly. Shuffling 1, walking 0.
   If you think back to when you were five or six, or whenever it was when you first began your set of memories, you might remember that inner voice of yours. It’s your own Jiminy Cricket. It’s not a weird voice telling you to do evil stuff, but your thought process. You know, the one talking to you right now as you read this. And I’m willing to bet that that voice has remained identical all these years in your own mind.
   For the fellas, that means that when your voice broke, it didn’t suddenly change. It’s as though it was the same all along.
   And that’s the voice I had at 15 months.
   It means that even at age one, I was a stubborn so-and-so.
   I should also mention that I was on “the leash” (which demeans us both). And from personal experience of being the leashed, it is bloody painful on your armpits when you get dragged up. It’s only natural for your parents to not want you to hurt yourself and they jerk you up. But by 12–15 months, you’re used to the pain of falling and you know how bad it is. In fact, the pain of falling was preferable to the pain of being yanked up. (In the 1990s, I went to Plunket to tell them of my experiences, and begged them to never recommend the leash to parents.)
   The leash might well have made me more rebellious than I normally would be, but eventually, as anyone who knows me today, I eventually learned to walk. I was about 16 at the time and wanted to pull chicks. Only kidding.
   Soon after (again, I cannot give you an exact time-frame), I discovered that I could run. Fast walking. And I loved it. (Driving on the autobahn gives the same thrill.)
   I then remembered thinking, ‘If someone had told me that I could run after I learned to walk, I would have done this ages ago [or, at least, in the past]. Why didn’t someone tell me?’
   Even at a time when we are not supposed to understand language as it is constructed, I am convinced infants actually understand any language as impulses, probably picking up vibes. They can reason, and it means that parents should be clear in explaining everything to their children, even at a very young age that they cannot remember back to.
   But it shows me that at around 12–18 months, I had a clear idea of ‘the past’ being the time when I was being encouraged to walk.
   The memories may well have been triggered by another phenomenon: the need to begin schooling at age two, as was common in Hong Kong.
   We are expected to attend kindergarten from 2½, and it’s not what occidentals associate with that term.
   We are talking nightly homework and getting graded. Sucks, I know. You don’t get much of a childhood, though there were really cool tricycles there.
   The idea is that if you don’t get into a good kindy, you don’t get into a good primary school, which means you don’t get into a good college, which means you don’t get into a good university. Therefore, in Hong Kong, in the 1970s, it was important to get the right start in life.
   However, to get into a good kindergarten, you have to sit an exam. Solo. With the examiner in the room in front of you.
   This would have been around two, and in the period before, while you are still one, you notice your parents buy join-the-dots puzzle books (I could count by this stage, thanks to my grandmother) and books with the alphabet.
   This was not exercising my mind: this was serious swotting.
   Because of the kidnapping of infants by Red Chinese back in those days, we also have the ‘Don’t talk to strangers’ message drummed in to us. By this point, my parents and grandmother were rationalizing with me, adding, ‘Because if you do, you might not see us again.’
   You can imagine that being abandoned by your mother with the examiner in a room is a pretty traumatic experience, because it goes against the whole anti-stranger thing.
   It didn’t make it easier that the bloody exam was not alphabet recitation or joining the dots.
   Maybe this is why, to this day, I still have nightmares about not having studied for an exam, though usually it’s set at law school, and it’s often constitutional law. (Thank you, Prof Palmer. Ironically, I did quite well with Sir Geoffrey’s exam.)
   The exam was putting shapes in to holes: the one Frank Spencer had to do when he joined the RAF.
   I eventually did it, crying through the process, but I guess at the end of the day, it was about the result and not the means. And I could see my Mum again.
   So by age two, most kids in Hong Kong had to rely on some form of memory, and when I was younger, I usually credited that with why mine went so far back. However, I wonder if others from the same place can report the same.
   Or, for instance, can actress Alicia Witt recall that she recited Shakespeare on That’s Incredible at age four? Considering her profession today—musician and actress—she must be blessed with a good memory, one that she’s had to exercise for a longer time than most.
   Emigrating to New Zealand in 1976 might have triggered a new set, because of the then-unfamiliar surroundings.
   I have a photographic memory, and I can tell you that the first car that went on the other side of the road as we left Wellington Airport on September 16, 1976, three days shy of my fourth birthday, was a Holden.
   There were few Holdens in Hong Kong but I remember the shape of the station wagon and finding out the brand later.
   It’s a little obsession I have always had, long before I even came to New Zealand.
   If anyone who worked at the Fiat dealership on the corner of Victory Avenue, Homantin, Kowloon, in 1975–6 remembers a two- to three-year-old who could tell them which was the 124, the 127, the 128 and the X1/9, and what years they were registered, then that was me. I still regret missing the launch of the 131, which was scheduled to take place in late September–early October 1976, but the cars were in the showroom, covered up.
   The dealership is no longer there, nor is the kindergarten, otherwise I would be asking Fiat Hong Kong for photographs of the launch event. It must have been the first launch to which I could have gone to, and had to miss.


Above The corner of Victory Avenue and Waterloo Road. At the far right, cut off, is where the Fiat dealership would have been. The laundry was there in the 1970s.

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