Posts tagged ‘Germany’


COVID-19 stats’ update, April 16

16.04.2020

Don’t worry, I won’t make this too regular, but as I had done some more number-crunching of the available stats during the daytime, I thought I’d share them. I’ve noticed that some countries update their test numbers on a less regular basis, e.g. France, Singapore, Sweden and Switzerland, though Worldometers now has updated ones since my last COVID-19 post. France’s test figure hasn’t changed, so we can safely conclude that its infection rate as a percentage of tests done is lower than what’s cited below. The same applies to Singapore.
   New Zealand has dipped below 2 per cent, finally, but thanks to rounding it’s cited as 2·00 per cent below. These figures include what Dr Ashley Bloomfield announced an hour ago. Happily, the US has started to see a fall since I last did these figures—there’s one post I didn’t write even though I had the calculations ready (it was too late at night for me to compose something cogent). Goes to show how quickly the landscape changes.
   I had overestimated the number of tests Sweden had done: it turns out they haven’t increased in number at the same rate as the fortnight before, though my use of 75,000 in the previous table wasn’t far off. Despite my overestimation, their infection rate continues to rise.
   The UK has also risen but not at the same rate, though judging by Twitter there, some are questioning whether deaths in aged care facilities are being included.
   Germany should be happy with its rate going from the 9s into the 7s.

France 147,863 of 333,807 = 44·30%*
Spain 180,659 of 650,755 = 27·76%
UK 98,476 of 398,916 = 24·69%
USA 644,089 of 3,258,879 = 19·76%
Sweden 11,927 of 74,600 = 15·99%
Italy 165,155 of 1,117,404 = 14·78%
Switzerland 26,336 of 199,000 = 13·23%
Germany 134,753 of 1,728,357 = 7·80%
Singapore 3,699 of 72,680 = 5·09%*
KSA 5,862 of 150,000 = 3·91%
New Zealand 1,401 of 70,160 = 2·00%
South Korea 10,613 of 538,775 = 1·97%
Australia 6,462 of 377,024 = 1·71%
Hong Kong 1,017 of 116,273 = 0·87%
Taiwan 395 of 49,748 = 0·79%

* Test number has not been updated

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COVID-19 infections as a percentage of tests done: April 13 update

13.04.2020

I can cite these COVID-19 calculations (infections as a proportion of tests done) with a bit more confidence than the last lot, where many countries’ testing figures had not updated. I see the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has released its total test numbers now, and they show a pretty good result, too.
   Compared to my post of the 7th inst., there are improvements in France, Italy, Switzerland and Germany, while Spain has shown a marked and positive improvement (from 39·58 per cent to 28·25 per cent).
   The UK’s delay and its initial reliance on herd immunity, with sycophants up and down the country agreeing, is showing up now as its number grows slightly, from 20·4 per cent on the 7th to 23·88 per cent with the latest data.
   The US’s numbers are holding fairly steadily with an increase of 0·8 per cent since the 7th (to 19·78 per cent).
   Sweden’s total test figure is one of two inaccurate ones here, having remained unchanged since the last tables, which obviously cannot be right. I estimate they have done around 75,000 tests so far, which would bring the figure to 13·98 per cent, fairly close to the 7th’s, rather than the 19·16 per cent that the Worldometers’ table would have me calculate.
   Also statistically similar are Switzerland, South Korea, Australia and Hong Kong, though Hong Kong’s total test figure is also inaccurate (unchanged from the 7th). Singapore is showing a rise with the reports of community transmission. New Zealand is showing a small drop (2·71 to 2·15 per cent), though the percentage change here is less than what the US’s is.
   Taiwan continues to see its percentage decline with another 8,000 tests done and only an additional 17 infections since the 7th’s post.

France 132,591 of 333,807 = 39·72%
Spain 169,496 of 600,000 = 28·25%
UK 84,279 of 352,974 = 23·88%
USA 560,433 of 2,833,112 = 19·78%
Italy 156,363 of 1,010,193 = 15·48%
Sweden 10,483 of c. 75,000 = c. 13·98%*
Switzerland 25,449 of 193,800 = 13·13%
Germany 127,854 of 1,317,887 = 9·70%
KSA 4,462 of 115,585 = 3·86%
Singapore 2,532 of 72,680 = 3·48%
New Zealand 1,349 of 62,827 = 2·15%
South Korea 10,537 of 514,621 = 2·05%
Australia 6,359 of 362,136 = 1·76%
Hong Kong 1,010 of 96,709 = 1·04%*
Taiwan 393 of 47,215 = 0·83%

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Saddened to see colleagues lose their jobs as we bid, ‘Auf wiedersehen, Heinrich Bauer Verlag’

03.04.2020

I am privy to some of the inner workings at Bauer Media through friends and colleagues, but I didn’t expect them to shut up shop in New Zealand, effective April 2.
   Depending on your politics, you’re in one of two camps.
   TV3, itself part of a foreign company who has made serious cutbacks during the lockdown, said Bauer had approached the government and offered to sell the business to them at a rock-bottom price in the hope of saving the 200-plus jobs there. The government declined. I believe that’s the angle foreign-owned media are adopting here.
   Both the PM and the minister responsible for media, Kris Faafoi, have said that Bauer never applied for the wage subsidy, and never approached the government to see if it could be classified as an essential service to keep operating. Indeed, in the words of the PM, ‘Bauer contacted the minister and told him they weren’t interested in subsidies.’
   It’s murkier today as there is evidence that Bauer had, through the Magazine Publishers’ Association, lobbied for reclassification for it to be turned down, though the minister continues to say that it had never been raised with him and that Bauer had already committed to shutting up shop.
   Outside of “we said, they said”, my takes are, first, it was never likely that the government would want to be a magazine publisher. Various New Zealand governments have been pondering how to deal with state-owned media here, and there was little chance the latest inhabitants of the Beehive would add to this.
   We also know that Bauer had shut titles over the years due to poor performance, and Faafoi’s original statement expressly states that the Hamburg-based multinational had been ‘facing challenges around viability of their operations here in New Zealand.’
   With these two facts in mind, the government would not have taken on the business to turn it around, especially while knowing the owner of Bauer Media (well, 85 per cent of it) has a personal worth of US$3,000 million and the company generated milliards in revenue per annum.
   I also have to point to its own harsh decisions over the years in shutting titles. In 2018, Bauer’s own Australian CEO told Ad News: ‘There’s a really interesting view that somehow we are here to provide a social service. The reality is we’re here to make money and if we can’t make money out of our magazines, we’ll sell them or we’ll close them.
   ‘We have an obligation, whether that’s a public company or private company, to make money for shareholders. If it doesn’t make money, why would we do it?’
   That, to me, sounds like the corporate position here as well, and no doubt Bauer’s bean counters will have crunched the numbers before yesterday’s announcement.
   I’ve had my own ideas how the stable could have evolved but it’s easy to talk about this with hindsight, so I won’t. Enough people are hurting.
   But I’d have applied for whatever the government offered to see if I could keep things going for a little while longer. Even if the writing was on the wall, it would have been nice to see my colleagues have a lifeline. Get one more issue of each title out after June. Maybe I’m just not as brutal. I mean, I’ve never defamed Rebel Wilson as Bauer’s Australian publications have. Maybe it’s different for a small independent.
   If I may use a sporting analogy, Bauer hasn’t let their players on to the field and kept them in the changing room, and more’s the pity.
   One comment I received yesterday was that Bauer wouldn’t have been in a position to pay its staff even with the government subsidy, with no advertising sales being generated. I’m not so sure, with annual global revenues of over €2,000 million. New Zealand was probably too unimportant to be saved by Bauer’s bosses in Hamburg. I guess we’ll never know.

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Don’t give the keys to the company Twitter to just anyone

02.02.2020

A few thoughts about Twitter from the last 24 hours, other than ‘Please leave grown-up discussions to grown-ups’: (a) it’s probably not a smart idea to get aggro (about a joke you don’t understand because you aren’t familiar with the culture) from your company’s account, especially when you don’t have a leg to stand on; (b) deleting your side of the conversation might be good if your boss ever checks, although on my end ‘replying to [your company name]’ is still there for all to see; and (c) if your job is ‘Chief Marketing Officer’ then it may pay to know that marketing is about understanding your audiences (including their culture), not about signalling that your workplace hires incompetently and division must rule the roost.
   I’m not petty enough to name names (I’ve forgotten the person but I remember the company), but it was a reminder why Twitter has jumped the shark when some folks get so caught up in their insular worlds that opposing viewpoints must be shouted down. (And when that fails, to stalk the account and start a new thread.)
   The crazy thing is, not only did this other Tweeter miss the joke that any Brit born, well, postwar would have got, I actually agreed with him politically and said so (rule number one in marketing: find common ground with your audience). Nevertheless, he decided to claim that I accused Britons of being racist (why would I accuse the entirety of my own nation—I am a dual national—of being racist? It’s nowhere in the exchange) among other things. That by hashtagging #dontmentionthewar in an attempt to explain that Euroscepticism has been part of British humour for decades meant that I was ‘obsessed by war’. Guess he never saw The Italian Job, either, and clearly missed when Fawlty Towers was voted the UK’s top sitcom. I also imagine him being very offended by this, but it only works because of the preconceived notions we have about ‘the Germans’:

The mostly British audience found it funny. Why? Because of a shared cultural heritage. There’s no shame in not getting it, just don’t get upset when others reference it.
   It’s the classic ploy of ignoring the core message, getting angry for the sake of it, and when one doesn’t have anything to go on, to attack the messenger. I see enough of that on Facebook, and it’s a real shame that this is what a discussion looks like on Twitter for some people.
   I need to get over my Schadenfreude as I watched this person stumble in a vain attempt to gain some ground, but sometimes people keep digging and digging. And I don’t even like watching accident scenes on the motorway.
   And I really need to learn to mute those incapable of sticking to the facts—I can handle some situations where you get caught up in your emotions (we’re all guilty of this), but you shouldn’t be blinded by them.
   What I do know full well now is that there is one firm out there with a marketing exec who fictionalizes what you said, and it makes you wonder if this is the way this firm behaves when there is a normal commercial dispute. Which might be the opposite to what the firm wished.
   As one of my old law professors once said (I’m going to name-drop: it was the Rt Hon Prof Sir Geoffrey Palmer, KCMG, AC, QC, PC), ‘The more lawyers there are, the more poor lawyers there are.’ It’s always been the same in marketing: the more marketers there are, the more poor marketers there are. And God help those firms that let the latter have the keys to the corporate Twitter account.

I enjoyed that public law class with Prof Palmer, and I wish I could remember other direct quotations he made. (I remember various facts, just not sentences verbatim like that one—then again I don’t have the public law expertise of the brilliant Dr Caroline Morris, who sat behind me when we were undergrads.)
   It’s still very civil on Mastodon, and one of the Tooters that I communicate with is an ex-Tweeter whose account was suspended. I followed that account and there was never anything, to my knowledge, that violated the TOS on it. But Twitter seems to be far harder to gauge in 2019–20 on just what will get you shut down. Guess it could happen any time to anyone. Shall we expect more in their election year? Be careful when commenting on US politics: it mightn’t be other Tweeters you need to worry about. And they could protect bots before they protect you.

Since I haven’t Instagrammed for ages—I think I only had one round of posting in mid-January—here’s how the sun looked to the west of my office. I am told the Canberra fires have done this. Canberra is some 2,300 km away. For my US readers, this is like saying a fire in Dallas has affected the sunlight in New York City.
   I’ve had a big life change, and I think that’s why Instagramming has suddenly left my routine. I miss some of the contact, and some dear friends message me there, knowing that doing so on Facebook makes no sense. I did give the impression to one person, and I publicly apologize to her, that I stopped Instagramming because the company is owned by Facebook, but the fact is I’ve done my screen time for the day and I’ve no desire to check my phone and play with a buggy app. Looks like seven years (late 2012 to the beginning of 2020) was what it took for me to be Instagrammed out, shorter than Facebook, where it took 10 (2007 to 2017).

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Posted in branding, business, culture, humour, internet, New Zealand, politics, TV, UK, Wellington | No Comments »


When the writers don’t check the Cobra 11 universe

10.04.2019

This is how big an Alarm für Cobra 11: die Autobahnpolizei nerd I am.
   Three years ago (April 7, 2016), we were introduced to Daniel Roesner as Paul Renner in ‘Cobra, übernehmen Sie’. There is a flashback scene dated April 7, 1996 when Paul and Semir meet for the first time, with Paul as a child.



   There are a few problems with the scene.
   If it was April 1996, then it would have been around the events of ‘Tod bei Tempo 100’, and Semir looked quite different:

   His goatee only begins appearing in episode 33 (production order), ‘Ein Leopard läuft Amok’ (October 1, 1998), and the BMW 3er with the registration NE-DR 8231 made its first appearance the episode before, ‘Die letzte Chance’ (which was actually shown later, on October 8, 1998).
   Also in ‘Cobra, übernehmen Sie’, Semir is on the radio to Andrea, when Andrea was not working for PASt in 1996. She made her first appearance in ‘Rache ist süß’ (November 18, 1997).
   I can understand star Erdoğan Atalay being reluctant to shave his goatee for the flashback, but it would have thrilled fans if he called to base for Regina and not Andrea.

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Fighting intolerance is the key to a tolerant society

01.04.2019

Hat tip to Mauricio Freitas. Source: Pictoline.

   Quite simple, isn’t it? I sense my parents’ generation (who were kids during WWII) would have understood this, but I worry about my generation and the ones following.

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Posted in culture, politics | 1 Comment »


Alarm für Cobra 11: why the inconsistent season numbering?

29.03.2019


RTL
Above: From the first episode after the half-season break, ‘Endstation’. All three men have, at some point, played the sidekick on Alarm für Cobra 11: die Autobahnpolizei: Erdoğan Atalay, who was hired to play second banana in the third episode but has since become the star of the show; Rainer Strecker, the man whom Atalay replaced, here guesting and playing another role altogether; and Daniel Roesner, who is currently Atalay’s co-star in the series, and who also had played another role prior to this one.

One for the Alarm für Cobra 11: die Autobahnpolizei fans. Our group—the largest on Facebook and, ironically, the one run mostly by non-Germans—saw this question from Tim Gottschall:

Kann mir mal bitte jemand erklären warum es bei Cobra 11 schon 42 DVD Staffeln gibt aber jetzt im TV die 33 Staffel läuft? Also damit auch die neuen Folgen

   This has always annoyed me. At Action Concept, this is still season 23.
   This has been compounded by certain episodes from new seasons being mixed in as the existing season was airing (e.g. production seasons 6 to 12) and episodes being shown out of order.
   According to production blocks (with overlaps explained above):

Season 1: episodes aired between March 12 and April 30, 1996 (episodes 1–9)
Season 2: March 11, 1997 to June 4, 1998 (episodes 10–31)
Season 3: October 1, 1998 to May 6, 1999 (episodes 32–47)
Season 4: December 16, 1999 to December 14, 2000 (episodes 48–63)
Season 5: April 5, 2001 to April 11, 2002 (episodes 64–80)
Season 6: April 18, 2002 to April 10, 2003 (episodes 81–97)
Season 7: September 11, 2003 to April 29, 2004 (episodes 98–110)
Season 8: March 25 to November 18, 2004 (episodes 111–25)
Season 9: February 10, 2005 to April 20, 2006 (episodes 126–41)
Season 10: April 27 to November 16, 2006 (episodes 142–57)
Season 11: March 22 to November 1, 2007 (episodes 158–68)
Season 12: September 20, 2007 to April 24, 2008 (episodes 169–79)
Season 13: September 4, 2008 to April 9, 2009 (episodes 180–94)
Season 14: September 3, 2009 to April 22, 2010 (episodes 195–209)
Season 15: September 2, 2010 to April 14, 2011 (episodes 210–22)
Season 16: September 15, 2011 to April 19, 2012 (episodes 223–38)
Season 17: September 6, 2012 to April 18, 2013 (episodes 239–53)
Season 18: October 24, 2013 to May 15, 2014 (episodes 254–67)
Season 19: October 9, 2014 to April 30, 2015 (episodes 268–82)
Season 20: September 10, 2015 to May 26, 2016 (episodes 283–98)
Season 21: September 1, 2016 to May 18, 2017 (episodes 299–317)
Season 22: September 14, 2017 to May 3, 2018 (episodes 318–36)
Season 23: September 13, 2018 to date (episode 337 to date)

   However, according to how Cobra 11 aired, all but the (short) first block were shown with a break in between—presumably due to labour laws there that required casts to have a break otherwise they would be overworked. So if you divide each of the seasons above into two, except for the first, then we are up to “season 43”. This is the numbering the DVDs use. As to “season 33”, I understand RTL used to follow the production numbering, but eventually diverged from it, so it’s a mixture of the “studio” numbering and the “broken season” numbering.
   I realize no one outside the fan community for this show will really care, but as this is my personal and business blog, a wide variety of subjects is covered. And for those fans who may stumble across this, I hope the above helps settle some questions.

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Wired’s Louise Matsakis did what no other journalist could: break the story on Facebook’s forced malware scans

24.02.2018

With how widespread Facebook’s false malware accusations were—Facebook itself claims millions were “helped” by them in a three-month period—it was surprising how no one in the tech press covered the story. I never understood why not, since it was one of many misdeeds that made Facebook such a basket case of a website. You’d think that after doing everything from experimenting on its users to intruding on users’ privacy with tracking preferences even after opting out, this would have been a story that followed suit. Peak Facebook has been and gone, so it amazed me that no journalist had ever covered this. Until now.
   Like Sarah Lacy at Pando, who took the principled stand to write about Über’s problems when no one else in the tech media was willing to, it appears to be a case of ‘You can trust a woman to get it right when no man has the guts,’ in this case social media and security writer for Wired, Louise Matsakis. I did provide Louise with a couple of quotes in her story, as did respondents in the US and Germany; she interviewed people on four continents. Facebook’s official responses read like the usual lies we’ve all heard before, going on the record with Louise with such straw-people arguments. Thank goodness for Louise’s and Wired’s reputations for getting past the usual wall of silence, and it demonstrates again how dishonest Facebook is.
   I highly recommend Louise’s article here—and please do check it out as she is the first journalist to write about something that has been deceiving Facebook users for four years.
   As some of you know, the latest development with Facebook’s fake malware warnings, and the accompanying forced downloads, is that Mac users were getting hit in a big way over the last fortnight. Except the downloads were Windows-only. Basically, Mac users were locked out of their Facebook accounts. We also know that these warnings have nothing to do with malware, as other people can sign on to the same “infected” machines without any issue (and I had asked a few of these Mac users to do just that—they confirmed I was right).
   Facebook has been blocking the means by which we can get around the forced downloads. Till April 2016, you could delete your cookies and get back in. You could also go and use a Linux or Mac PC. But steadily, Facebook has closed each avenue, leaving users with fewer and fewer options but to download their software. Louise notes, ‘Facebook tells users when they agree to conduct the scan that the data collected in the process will be used “to improve security on and off Facebook,” which is vague. The company did not immediately respond to a followup request for comment about how exactly it uses the data it collects from conducting malware checks.’ But we know data are being sent to Facebook without our consent.
   Facebook also told Louise that a Mac user might have been prompted to download a Windows program because of how malware spoofs different devices—now, since we all know these computers aren’t infected, we know that that’s a lie. Then a spokesman told Louise that Facebook didn’t collect enough information to know whether you really were infected. But, as she rightly asks, if they didn’t collect that info, why would they force you to download their software? And just what precedent is that setting, since scammers use the very same phishing techniques? Facebook seems to be normalizing this behaviour. I think they got themselves even deeper in the shit by their attempts at obfuscation.
   Facebook also doesn’t answer why many users can simply wait three days for their account to come right instead of downloading their software. Which brings me back to the database issues I discovered in 2014.
   Louise even interviewed ESET, which is one of the providers of the software, only to get a hackneyed response—which is better than what the rest of us managed, because the antivirus companies all are chatty on Twitter till you bring this topic up. Then they clam up. Again, thank goodness for the fourth estate and a journalist with an instinct for a great story.
   So please do give Louise some thanks for writing such an excellent piece by visiting her article, or send her a note via Twitter, to @lmatsakis. To think this all began one night in January 2016 …

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Posted in internet, media, publishing, technology, USA | 2 Comments »


Why the next Holden Commodore will have a traditional boot

01.12.2016


Above: The Holden Commodore SS-V, facing its last year of manufacture.

The current wisdom appears to be that when the Holden Commodore VF leaves production in 2017, it’ll be replaced by the liftback version of the Opel Insignia B. After all, the only big sedan Ford Australia’s offering in place of the now-defunct Falcon is the liftback version of the Mondeo, a car that’s wider, taller, and with a longer wheelbase than the supposedly larger Falcon. I think the crystal ball-gazers are wrong.
   I could say that the Australian and New Zealand big car buyer is very traditional and would balk at the idea of the big Holden being a hatch. But that’s not the only reason. There’s a bigger one: China.


Above: GM currently makes the Opel Insignia A-based Buick Regal in China, after initially beginning with German production.

   At the moment, China makes a version of the Opel Insignia A locally, and it’s a four-door sedan with a traditional boot. They badge it as a Buick Regal, a nameplate that’s arguably got stronger goodwill in the Middle Kingdom than in the US, even if it’s been running Stateside since Kojak drove it on the streets of Manhattan. And the Chinese like their traditional sedans: it’s a market where liftbacks aren’t kosher.
   While Holden says the next Commodore will be sourced from Germany, and the media speculate that the Germans won’t get a four-door sedan, it’s not to say that one hasn’t been developed. And we’re not exactly missing precedent for a country to tool up for a body style that isn’t offered domestically. We need look no further than GM itself, which was selling the Opel Antara into Europe, exporting it from Korea, years before the same model was available domestically as a Daewoo.
   While Australia and New Zealand will account for quite tiny numbers, you have to think about where else a Stufenheck Opel Insignia B might sell. How about the Middle East, where it could complement the Chevrolet Malibu and Impala as a sportier counterpart? Or South Africa, which would also welcome right-hand drive? Could China take some as Regals in advance of SAIC–GM tooling up for its own version? It’s all conceivable.
   There’s also a possibility that Holden will start off sourcing the next Commodore from Germany, and switch to Chinese production when the Buick Regal is ready. SAIC owns the majority of its venture with GM these days, and calls the shots. What’s good for General Motors is good for China, as the saying goes. And it could well determine that one of its plants, either in China or in Thailand, where plenty of Australasian-market cars are sourced from, could be the production site of the 2019 or 2020 model. (Korea has been ruled out already, according to The Wall Street Journal.)
   GM has switched sources mid-run before, and happily used the goodwill of German engineering when introducing a vehicle made with cheaper labour. Forty years ago, after selling German Opels for years, it began selling the Opel Isuzu from Japan: it was the Isuzu Gemini, the Japanese counterpart to the Opel Kadett C world car. The following year, 1977, the Opel Isuzu became the Buick/Opel. The Japanese origins were eventually hidden. The 2008 Regal, meanwhile, was originally sourced from Germany until SAIC was ready with its locally made version.
   In this day and age, when global-market Renaults and Fords come from Turkey, Nissans and Suzukis from India, and Fiats and Volkswagens from México, no such name changes will be needed. If the quality is good enough, ‘made in China’ won’t be that strange a concept. No one seems to have much of an opinion, or a stereotype, over ‘made in Thailand’—yet we buy plenty of product from them.
   GM isn’t likely to sleepwalk into this transition as it did pre-GFC. Then, the company was ill-prepared, prepared to splash money around on different platforms. The leaner 2010s GM will want to grab every sale it can, and I don’t think Aussie or Kiwi buyers are going to flock to the showrooms for a Commodore hatch, even if it looks like a Porsche Panamera.
   They won’t necessarily care that the new model is a better handler, with powerful engines, better economy, a lighter weight, and a decent interior. They could notice that shoulder room has gone down a fraction. There’s a certain conservatism to this market, and the idea of a hatchback just might be too foreign for this group.
   And if they can supply it, with the Chinese Buick Regal waiting in the wings, then why not maximize sales?
   When the four-door Commodore débuts in Australia next year, after its début in Genève as the Opel Insignia, the General will again have one over arch-rival Ford when it comes to big cars.

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Posted in business, cars, China, globalization, marketing, USA | 1 Comment »


Volkswagen’s scandal won’t spread to other German car groups

24.09.2015


If you want a humorous take on what happened at Volkswagen this week, the above video sums it all up.

During my 2010 mayoral campaign, I noted that if New Zealand did not diversify its economy to have more of a focus on technology, there could be a problem. Relying on primary products (I didn’t say dairy specifically) wasn’t something a western economy should be doing and, of course, one signal that things would change in Wellington would be my idea for free, inner-city wifi. I wasn’t trying to be a smart-arse; I was just pointing out an obvious fact, one that has taken many years for others to be concerned about, with Fonterra payouts dipping. News travels slowly.
   Right now, this Reuter article (sorry, folks, having grown up in New Zealand where ‘NZPA–Reuter’ was in the newspapers every day, the plural form doesn’t come naturally to me) suggests that the Volkswagen débâcle could harm other German car makers. How great that harm is depends on how tied those brands are to the German nation brand. The danger is, according to the article, that with the German car industry employing 775,000 people, and car and car parts being the country’s most successful export, a dent in their reputation could have drastic effects for an economy. According to Michael Hüther of the IW economic institute, the car industry is at the core. Having other industries that are strong is important to any economy, and Germany has ensured that, despite one taking a knock, it has others that will keep it ticking over. Nearly 70 per cent of the German economy is in services. There will be worries in foreign exchange, but I doubt we’re going to see other German car makers tanking because of this.
   But Volkswagen, some argue, is very wedded to the German psyche. Its founding, which no one really talks about because you’d have to mention the war, ties it to the state, and its postwar resurrection was borne out of the British Army wanting to get the people of the former KdF-Stadt some gainful employment. It was the great German success, the company whose Käfer became a world-beater, overtaking the Ford Model T in terms of units made.
   The VW symbol is very German, borne from their graphic design ideas of the 1930s. The German name, the quirkiness of the Käfer, its relative reliability, and its unchanging appearance probably tied VW and Germany closer together in terms of branding. For years, you would associate Volkswagen with ‘Made in Germany’, just as you would with Mercedes-Benz and BMW, even if a sizeable proportion of their production is not German at all today. (Mercedes and BMW SUVs are often made in the US; Volkswagen makes its Touareg in Slovakia. Volkswagen is one of the biggest foreign players in China, and in Brazil it’s practically considered a domestic brand.)
   Think of the postwar period: Germans weren’t always smart about how to market their cars. BMW had a bunch of over-engineered cars that were completely unsuited to the market-place, such as the heavy, baroque 501; it wound up making the Isetta under licence toward the end of the decade because it was in such deep trouble. Volkswagen eschewed fashion in favour of a practical little car that, too, placed engineering ahead of marketing fads. From this, the idea of German precision engineering was enhanced from its prewar years, because engineering was, by and large, top priority. Mercedes-Benz, being far more successful at selling its luxury cars to the rich than BMW, cemented it and added cachet and snobbery.
   It was only the foreign-owned makers in Germany that went for fashion, such as Ford and Opel, selling convention to the masses wrapped in pretty clothes: the Ford Taunus TC had styling excesses demanded by Ford president Bunkie Knudsen at the time of its development, but it broke no new ground underneath.
   Nevertheless, any time Ford sources from Germany, whether it’s for the US market or here in New Zealand, the notion of “German precision” seeps through in the marketing; when the sourcing changed, as has happened with the Focus here, it’s very quietly dropped. The German car manufacturers carved themselves a nice, comfortable niche, thanks to an earlier era which, to some extent, no longer exists.
   Mercedes-Benz decided it was not about ‘Made in Germany’ some years ago, favouring ‘Made by Mercedes’, and turned itself into a marketing-led organization; quality suffered. Volkswagen, in its quest to become the biggest car maker in the world, and the master of everything from Škoda to Bugatti, did what GM did years before, by allowing each brand to maintain its character but sharing the stuff that customers didn’t see. It, too, became more marketing-led, and it’s not had a stellar performance in owner surveys for a while.
   You could say that there has been a gradual separation between the brands and what we hold about the German national image in our minds. The “Germanness”, which once accounted for the companies charging a premium, has been decreasing; Volkswagens, in many parts of the world, are affordable again, even in the US where the NMS Passat is built locally in Tennessee. South African- and Mexican-sourced Volkswagens in New Zealand are cheaper in constant dollars compared to their predecessors of a generation before. The German image is not gone altogether—the name, graphics and the æsthetic of the product see to that—but it does mean the effects of the scandal might not spread to other brands as much as some commentators think.
   The original study that showed Volkswagen was cheating on its emissions’ tests in the US, which is nearly two years old by now (it makes you wonder why it only surfaced in the media this week), also showed that BMW performed better than what it claimed. It’s not impossible for the other manufacturers to separate themselves from Volkswagen, because their individual brands have become strong. Thanks to the weaker relationship between Volkswagen and the German brand, this scandal will likely confine itself to the single car group. It’s not great news for the world’s biggest car maker, but its compatriots should see this as an opportunity more than a threat.

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