Posts tagged ‘Holden’


Could this happen one day at GM?

22.02.2020


The MG line-up in New Zealand. Could it be part of a bigger portfolio of brands later this decade?

In the context of what has happened with Holden, and Peter Hanenberger’s thoughts on the direction of GM, I wonder how far away we are from seeing these headlines:

Cash-strapped GM sells passenger car brands to SAIC to focus on trucks and SUVs

and:

SAIC builds passenger-car brand portfolio with Wuling, Baojun, Chevrolet, Roewe, MG, Buick and Cadillac

You can almost think of MG as Pontiac and Roewe as Oldsmobile … With the decimation of the GM line-up globally, and the segments they no longer field (e.g. C-segment cars in many markets), will they even have the investment needed to sustain the car brands?
   I know they are saying this was all necessary to fund the electrification of the range and autonomous tech, but isn’t this the same company that nixed the EV1 and failed to make the Volt a Prius-beater?
   The Chinese state wasn’t about creating “Chinese Leyland” when they forced SAIC and NAC to merge. They had much grander plans.

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


Peter Hanenberger’s unintended post mortem of Holden

19.02.2020


The 2009 Chevrolet Caprice SS, sold in the Middle East but made in Australia.

I came across a 2017 interview with former Holden chairman Peter Hanenberger, who was in charge when the company had its last number-one sales’ position in Australia. His words are prescient and everything he said then still applies today.
   He spent over four and a half decades at GM so he knows the company better than most. Since he departed in 2003 he had seven successors at the time of the interview; and I believe there have been a couple more since.
   A few interesting quotes.

‘It’s [now] a very short-sighted company.’
It feels like it. The sort of retreating it’s done, the dismantling of global operations, and the failure to see how global platforms can achieve economies of scale is something only a company beholden to quarterly stock price results will do. And it doesn’t help its longevity.
   Even Holden, which looked like it was going to simply depart the passenger-car sector at the end of last year before a full withdrawal now, tells us that there doesn’t appear to be a long-term plan in place that the US management is committed to. Not long ago they were going on about the two dozen models they planned to launch to field a competitive line-up.

‘For me General Motors was a global player. Today General Motors is shrinking to an American company with no foresight, which is in very bad shape, which has missed the market.’
Remember Hanenberger said this in 2017, when it still had presences in many Asian countries. In 2020 it very much looks like GM will be in the Americas (where it still fields reasonably complete line-ups, although God knows if they have anything in the pipeline to replace the existing models) and China. Russia, India, Australia, New Zealand and Thailand are gone or going, and western Europe went in 2017 before the interview.

‘Maybe it fits into the vision of Trump; America first. But how the world is going to work also in the future is not because of America first and America only. It’s global. I think there will be no GM in the near-future.’
Everyone else is desperate to do tie-ups while GM retreats. I think GM will still be around but it’ll be a Chinese firm.

‘I couldn’t give a shit what they thought in America.’
I don’t mean this as an anti-American quote, but I see it as a dig against bean counters (whatever their nationality) fixated on the short term and not motorheads who know their sector well.

‘For me Holden didn’t have enough product, and the second one [priority] was I wanted to get these cars they had into export. For me it was very clear the products they had could be exported and they should go on to export.’
You saw the failure of this in the early 2010s when Holden failed to keep its Middle Eastern deals, and the US models returned. It could have been so different, though I realize GM was very cash-strapped when they needed the US taxpayer to bail them out.
   Bruce Newton, who wrote the piece, says that the Middle East was worth up to 40,000 units per annum, with A$10,000 profit per car. It cost Holden A$20 million to develop them for left-hand drive. I’d have held on to that sort of opportunity for dear life.

‘There was nothing going on that was creative towards the future of Holden as in Australia, New Zealand and toward the export market. They just neglected this whole thing.’
That was Hanenberger when he visited his old workplace in 2006. With product development cycles the way they are, it’s no wonder they were so ill placed when the Middle Eastern markets lost interest in the VE Commodore and WM Caprice (as the Chevrolet Lumina and Caprice), and China in the Buick Park Avenue.
   It’s an interesting interview and perhaps one of the best post mortems for Holden, even if it wasn’t intended to be so three years ago.

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Posted in business, cars, China, leadership, USA | 1 Comment »


The death of Holden

17.02.2020

GM pulled out of Russia and India, so with hindsight, those of us Down Under, with a far smaller total population, shouldn’t have thought we were particularly special.
   Even where GM remains, such as South Korea, there’s a broken model range, with a big gap where the Cruze used to be.
   It’s becoming apparent that GM, with no more right-hand-drive markets to cater for, will be a company that only offers full lines in China and the Americas.
   Some GM-watchers have been calling for the demise of Holden for years, just as they had called for the deaths of Oldsmobile and Pontiac years before. But as I argued in a letter published in the (also-defunct) Condé Nast Portfolio, each brand occupies unique territory, and, had they not been diluted, could still appeal to certain buyers that more mainstream ones, e.g. Chevrolet, cannot reach.
   Holden was always a tough case in Australia, where we noted it was very tied to nationalism. Once local manufacture finished, its sales plummeted.
   It wasn’t the case in New Zealand, where all cars had been imported for decades and we never had the sense that Holden was our ‘own car’. However, GM New Zealand (as it then was) had created a handful of Holdens unique to this market that the Australians never saw. Once upon a time, it was a more independent beast.
   When Holden ceased Australian manufacture, sales didn’t drop the same way in this country. With Kiwis loving entries in the CD market, the Commodore isn’t an uncommon sight, and remains the choice of the police.
   But the same argument of economies of scale applies to New Zealand, a country with a population of five million: GM had no desire to allow this country much wiggle room compared with Australia. Whatever happened there would necessarily happen here.
   Those 600 jobs that are going include redundancies in New Zealand.
   Over the years it had seemed Holden was on life support. There was a golden age where the HQ series and its derivatives flew the Holden flag high, but after the oil crises, there was a real possibility the company could have bit the dust in the mid-1980s, becoming an import-only operation.
   A plan circulated within GM to replace the top Holdens with Cadillacs, while the rest of the range would be made up of cars from around the GM empire—which, in those days, included Opel and Isuzu.
   But the Australians won the day and the VN Commodore got the green light. By the end of the 1990s, Holden was in great shape, including an export programme for cars based off the VT Commodore.
   You could say history repeated itself with the global financial crisis in the late 2000s—where GM, keen to continue, asked for US$50,000 million from the US taxpayer. But perhaps more importantly, it sold the controlling stake in its venture with SAIC of China to its Chinese partner for a mere US$85 million. That was one deal that allowed GM to raise funds elsewhere, but it also saw the beginning of a technological transfer to China. Even after GM bought back the share, SAIC would get control of the JV’s sales’ company.
   Numerous SAIC cars were built on GM platforms—the Roewe 950, for example. Cars made by GM ventures began appearing with SAIC-owned brands—the MG Hector in India, a rebadged Baojun 530, for one; it also appears as the second-generation Chevrolet Captiva in some other markets. Once upon a time GM might have earned a royalty for any car built on its tech, but it’s unlikely here as the two companies share in the profits.
   While SAIC hasn’t succeeded with MG Down Under, you notice more of a push these days, and it has already made an impact in New Zealand with the Maxus commercial line-up, rebadged LDV. Export sales aren’t a big deal for the Chinese giant, but with the Chinese economy slowing, they could be eyeing up more international markets.
   With SAIC keen to get more of the action for themselves, GM’s operations in many of its outposts became irrelevant.
   Holden held on for dear life and arguably had one of its more competitive ranges for years—but in this context, GM might not have had much choice.
   It has little to do with the consolidation of markets and all to do with much higher-level strategic decisions. After all, hardly anyone in China will have grown up with idea of Holden being Australia’s own car.

This post also appears in Drivetribe and Lucire Men.

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Posted in business, cars, China, New Zealand, USA | 2 Comments »


GM’s Holden to abandon C and D car segments, delivering them on a silver platter to competitors

23.01.2020


Stuart Cowley for Lucire

I haven’t spoken to Holden New Zealand to see if we’re following suit, but as far as Australia’s concerned, 2020 will be the final year for the Astra and Commodore, as Holden transitions to selling only trucks (utes) and SUVs.
   Here we are, with its most competitive C- and D-segment models for a long time, and Holden decides to abandon them.
   New Zealand did briefly chart its own course recently with the Holden Spark, which it secured supply for even after its cancellation in Australia, but it’s unlikely to depart from what’s happening in Australia.
   Beyond the obvious question of ‘What will the cops drive now?’ it’s a sad development for a brand that’s been part of the Australasian motoring landscape for decades, even before 1948 if you count the Holden coachbuilt bodies before the war.
   Holden points to the rise in truck and SUV sales and the decline in passenger car ones, and, unlike Ford, it can’t blame a lack of marketing for them—over here, it’s been fairly consistent in promoting each one of its lines.
   Over in Australia, Holden sales collapsed when domestic production ended, but in New Zealand, where we have no such allegiance to ‘Buy Australian’, I saw some reasonable sales’ figures for the Opel Insignia B-based Commodore. And it is a good car.
   The chief reason, I imagine, is that after GM sold Opel to PSA, which seeks now to merge with FCA, it didn’t really want to buy cars off a competitor. And PSA really didn’t want to be paying royalties off each car it sold back to GM. Basically, the supply chain ain’t what it used to be.
   By 2021, PSA will launch a new Astra based on a platform to be shared with the third-generation Peugeot 308, and Insignia B’s days are numbered, too, as it transitions that to a PSA platform (if PSA doesn’t just cancel it altogether). GM would earn nothing from this 2021 model, so there would be no point going forth with it.
   GM has also killed off the Cruze in Korea, the US and México, leaving Argentina the only country that still makes it, so it wasn’t as though it had anything else in the C-segment that it could bring in to Australasia. Many of its Chinese-market models are on the GEM platform, regarded as too basic for our needs, and there seemed to be little point to getting them complied with our standards or having them engineered for right-hand drive. Basically, there isn’t an alternative.
   This frankly strikes me as all a bit defeatist, not unlike Ford’s decision to kill off all passenger car lines (bar Mustang) in the US a few years ago.
   Toyota will have you know that the C- (Corolla) and D- (Camry) segments are doing quite well for them, and they are quite happy to pick up some conquest sales from the Americans.
   I’m not sure if ‘We’re not doing that well there. Oh well, let’s give up,’ is much of an attitude to adopt when certain segments could reignite as consumer tastes shift. And if one really wanted to compete—if there was a will—then one could.
   What I fear is that GM isn’t Mystic Meg and even though my previous post was in jest, there is a serious point to it: people might wake up to the big frontal areas and poor aerodynamics and high centres of gravity and general irrelevance and inefficiency of the SUV for everyday use. I mean, I still can’t reconcile people complaining that petrol prices are too high while sitting in a stationary SUV with the engine on awaiting someone, anyone, to leave a spot so they can park right outside the shop they wish to go to. While claiming they are concerned about the planet. I have a C-segment car because I do think petrol is expensive. And even if you had an electric-powered SUV, you’re still affected by the laws of physics and your charge won’t go as far if the aerodynamics are poor. I thought we got all these lessons in the 1970s and 1980s.
   Just as I warned that killing Plymouth was a mistake for DaimlerChrysler—because recessions can come and people want budget brands—I question whether becoming the vendor of ‘Australia’s own truck’ is a smart tactic. There are some segments that have a base level of demand, or so I thought.

Of course, this leaves PSA to do the inevitable: launch Opel as a brand in this part of the world.
   Opel CEO Michael Lohscheller said as much when PSA bought the firm, and while his eyes were probably on China, they could apply equally here.
   I realize Opel flopped in Australia when an attempt was made a few years ago, but unlike Australia, Opel has a reasonable history here, with its Kadett GSis and a full line of Vectra As sold in the 1980s and 1990s. Kiwis know that the Opel Vectra and Holden Vectra are part of the same lineage. And I have to wonder if the brand, with its German heritage, would do well here.
   Imagine the scenario where Opel launches here in 2022 with not just Astra and Insignia (because Kiwis love their D-segment wagons, unlike the UK), but with the Crossland X and Grandland X as well.
   They’d have the goodwill of the Astra name (just as GM predicted), and there may be enough Kiwis who have positive impressions of their Vectra As. Even our family one sold recently to a South Islander after my friend, who bought it off me, decided to part ways with it. Mechanics still think highly of the Family II units those cars had.
   And somehow, I think being independent of GM is a good thing in this case—no conflict of interest, no wondering whether Mokka might cannibalize Trax, resulting in stunted marketing.
   The new design language is looking sharp and I think it would find favour among New Zealanders who are currently buying Volkswagens and Škodas. They’d also be a darn sight more reliable, too.
   If you’re thinking the market is too crowded, remember VW didn’t think so when it determined SEAT could have another crack in the late 2010s.
   I can’t be alone in thinking this—certainly Australian media were speculating if Inchcape could bring Opel in to their country this time last year. Who’ll take it on?

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


Another milestone: 16 million page views for Autocade

02.06.2019

Looks like the viewing rate has picked up again for Autocade despite a relative lack of updates over the last six months (in no small part due to our move). Tomorrow it’ll exceed 16 million page views.
   Some of the last few entries have been about filling in gaps: the Renault Clio V is out, yet only entered into the database on May 29; the Singaporean Holden Calais (and corresponding Malaysian Opel Calais) the day after, with Autocade possibly the only website which corrects another well propagated error by Wikipedia on this car; the fifth-generation Toyota RAV4, which made its motor show appearance over a year ago; and the Nissan 180SX of 1989.
   Autocade doesn’t profess to be a complete encyclopædia, since it’s an ongoing, developing work, though it does surprise me where the gaps are sometimes. I often have the photos filed away, but wait till the mood hits. Or, in the present case, waiting till some of my reference books re-emerge as I’m still, three weeks later, living out of boxes.
   As with each million before, here’s a summary of how the traffic has developed:

March 2008: launch
April 2011: 1,000,000 (three years for first million)
March 2012: 2,000,000 (11 months for second million)
May 2013: 3,000,000 (14 months for third million)
January 2014: 4,000,000 (eight months for fourth million)
September 2014: 5,000,000 (eight months for fifth million)
May 2015: 6,000,000 (eight months for sixth million)
October 2015: 7,000,000 (five months for seventh million)
March 2016: 8,000,000 (five months for eighth million)
August 2016: 9,000,000 (five months for ninth million)
February 2017: 10,000,000 (six months for tenth million)
June 2017: 11,000,000 (four months for eleventh million)
January 2018: 12,000,000 (seven months for twelfth million)
May 2018: 13,000,000 (four months for thirteenth million)
September 2018: 14,000,000 (four months for fourteenth million)
February 2019: 15,000,000 (five months for fifteenth million)
June 2019: 16,000,000 (four months for sixteenth million)

   It’s interesting to note that Autocade has had five million more page views since June 2017; yet it took six years (three times as long) to get the site’s first five million. At the time of writing, the database has 3,813 models, an increase of just 32 since the site gained its 15 millionth page view.

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Posted in cars, internet, media, publishing | 1 Comment »


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 »


How can we help those fooled into believing what their local brands are?

06.01.2016

How interesting to see a silly Tweet of mine make the Murdoch Press and lead an opinion column—I’m told it even hit the news.com.au home page.
   It’s a very old joke that I’ve told since 2002, when I walked along Bay Road in Kilbirnie and saw a locksmith sign in Futura. Back then, Dick Smith Electronics had its logotype set in ITC Avant Garde Gothic. I really thought it was a Dick Smith sign at a first, fleeting glance, seeing CKSMITH. The joke was born.
   Most in my social media streams got it except a couple of Australians who had likely come across it via Murdochs a day late, one calling me ignorant (not sure how you can get that from one Tweet), and another ‘ahole’ (is this a misspelling of aloha?). As the funniest guy in their media is John Clarke, who was born in New Zealand, maybe humour doesn’t reach a couple of households there if it has to be imported. And the number of times John’s taken the piss about us, to my thorough enjoyment, means that some of us can take a joke. Perhaps we just have a sense of humour. We have to: it was the only way we could deal with our PM appearing on The Late Show with David Letterman. It is, to quote the man, ‘a bit of banter. No drama.’
   The false indignation “on behalf of others” is always a comical one, because it’s usually founded on a misplaced and unjustified sense of superiority. During a political campaign, they’re the ones I find the most humorous and least authoritative. Thick skin came with that territory.
   Neither deserves a response beyond what I said on Twitter, but the second one (with a fresh new account to troll from, always a good sign of someone who won’t stand by their words) highlights a point that I have made on this blog before.
   “Ruby Pond” notes, ‘The guy is pure Oz and started when you were in nappies and tried! Stick to your foreign companies, they really help Oz.’ I’m not sure what I was tried about, not having been to court while I was in nappies, but maybe she’s depending on the fact that not everyone remembers back to their infancy.
   Well done. She got this from an American-owned newspaper website (remember, Rupert’s no longer an Australian, nor is the HQ in Australia and hasn’t been for a long, long time), and, for the record, I’m not as old as the business that Dick founded. There’s also a suggestion that I must be Australian, because, after all, everyone on the planet must be. No other countries exist. I didn’t want to get into trans-Tasman rivalry in such a situation, nor was it appropriate to give a list of Australian corporate misdeeds in New Zealand. The term off-topic springs to mind.
   I told her, ‘Stick to your foreign media, they really help Oz.’
   Hers is that simplistic thinking that gets people supporting foreign-owned businesses when they believe they are supporting local ones.
   Dick’s been one of my personal heroes since his solo helicopter flight and I’ve been a customer of the chain he founded since I was old enough to buy my own tech gear. Entrepreneurs like him are the ones I’ve always encouraged, through mentoring and through my policies. However, the sad story of the company, no longer owned by Dick, is one of corporate greed—which the founder himself has been critical of. We haven’t learned the lessons of so many economic crises: Gordon Gecko’s mantra of ‘greed is good’ continues to drive the corporate world.
   The reason so many multinationals buy local brands is to fool the public into thinking they’re supporting their own. We’re guilty of it ourselves, and I recall using the examples of Just Juice and most of our local newspapers on this blog. People closed accounts at the National Bank when it became ANZ here, because of a suspicion of, dislike of, or rivalry with Australia, perceiving National to be a local bank. The problem there: ANZ had owned the National Bank for years before the rebranding of its own subsidiary, and prior to that it was part of Lloyds TSB in the UK. A lot of Australians think Ford and Holden are domestic players (though, oddly, not Toyota, which probably builds as many, if not more, cars there), just as many Britons still think they are buying British when they shop at Ford and Vauxhall.
   The situation with news.com.au differs slightly in that that business was started in Australia by Rupert Murdoch’s Dad, and it has grown from there—but the fact remains that its HQ is overseas and that’s where it pays its tax. Help to Australians: not a lot. The Murdoch Press’s globalization agenda won’t be one that the “buy Australian” crowd would support for the most part.
   But this is how brands work, because they encourage us to make mental shortcuts for the products and services we consume. I’ve devoted a good deal of my professional life to it. Some should encourage scrutiny because of the power they have (Wally Olins noted, many years ago, how some brands need to adopt notions that were once reserved for states), and it was hoped that, post-No Logo, we would be more inquisitive about the backgrounds to the organizations we support.
   Even though it’s our money and time, the sad thing is that this level of inquiry remains the province of the few, those people who are willing to scrutinize their own behaviour and practise what they preach. Social media have helped spread news of corporate misbehaviours (Volkswagen will attest to that) and more people are aware; but to counter that we get more information than we ever used to, and unless something resonates, will we just forget it?
   Therefore, it can only be something where people who have done the proper investigation get to have a say. And like all human endeavours, it can be scammed, so safeguards have to be built in.
   One of the reasons the Medinge Group awarded its Brands with a Conscience accolades for close to a decade was to champion the organizations that were getting it right, inviting transparency and scrutiny, championing good corporate citizenship, and engaging in socially responsible programmes. Among them were companies devoted to doing things right by the communities they were present in, whether it was Dilmah Tea, Tata Steel or Hennes & Mauritz.
   By our championing them, selected by a think-tank of leading brand professionals, we would be able to highlight shining examples of branding, as well as give them the sort of boost they deserved. If positive companies could increase their custom, and if positive non-profits could increase their influence, then we can do some good in the world.
   As people rightly want shortcuts in their busy daily lives, then the work at Medinge, if seen as an endorsement, would help them make a decision about whether to deal with that organization or not.
   It’s nice to be in that bubble, which makes me ever-grateful to get reminders that we still have a lot of work to do. If you’re genuinely desirous of helping your own, then we need to help create more ways of reminding people which organizations do just that. The Brands with a Conscience programme was definitely a very good way of doing it. What shall we do, in the post-peak-Facebook world of the second part of this decade, to get word out? Is it through video, thanks to greater bandwidth, that allows us to experience and understand more? Is this the coming of age of some form of virtual reality? Or, as we did when we first started exploring bulletin boards and email, time again for us to reach out to people in communities very foreign and different to ours through video chats—something like Google Hangouts but actually with people? (Yes, I know, Google fans, I was taking the piss.) Is Skype the service on which this can be built?
   I would have said that technology is the great democratizer, and maybe more of us should be giving out awards to truly deserving organizations, voted on by more of the public. But we come across the issue of quality versus quantity again: the Reputation Institute surveyed 60,000 people in 15 countries and still wound up with Nestlé among the most reputable firms in the world. Nestlé may do very good things in some quarters, but it hasn’t been able to avoid a lawsuit by environmental and public interests groups in California over its water-bottling operation there, or accusations by activists who believe the company wants to privatize water at the expense of public health. Volkswagen was there in the 2014 survey. We decide on image, and that image is the very thing that gets us making bad choices.
   The next innovators are already on to it, and we don’t even know that we seek it. But, in order to self-actualize, maybe organizing us—individuals, not corporations—into global communities is the next stage. We have seen Kiva work so positively, so how about making it more interactive? Naturally we will tend to choose to help those in our own countries first—crowdfunding campaigns show us that—but allowing us to understand another human being’s situation could be the challenge in a time when governments pursue their austerity agenda. Somehow, we can restore, at least to some degree, the optimism we had when we in the first world accessed the World Wide Web for the first time.

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Posted in branding, business, cars, culture, globalization, humour, internet, marketing, media, social responsibility, technology, UK, USA | No Comments »


How brands fool us

13.04.2013

The Google experience over the last week—and I can say ‘week’ because there were still a few browsers showing blocks yesterday—reminds me of how brands can be resilient.
   First, I know it’s hard for most people to believe that Google is so incompetent—or even downright corrupt, when it came to its bypassing Safari users’ preferences and using Doubleclick to do it (but we already know how Doubleclick bypassed every browser a couple of years ago). People rely on Google, Google Docs, Google Image Search, or any of its other products. But there’s something to be said for a well communicated slogan, ‘Don’t be evil.’ Those who work in computing, or those who have experienced the negative side of the company, know otherwise. But, to most people, guys like me documenting the bad side are shit-stirrers—until they begin experiencing the same.
   Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe it’s OK for a small publication to get blacklisted, or people tracked on the internet despite their requests not to be. But I don’t think we can let these companies off quite so easily, because there is something rotten in a lot of its conduct.
   By the same token, maybe it doesn’t matter that we can’t easily buy a regularly priced orange juice from a New Zealand-owned company in our own supermarkets. Most, if not all, of that sector is owned by the Japanese or the Americans. We haven’t encouraged domestic enterprises to be global players, excepting the obvious ones such as Fonterra.
   However, most people don’t notice it, because brands have shielded it. The ones we buy most started in this country, by the Apple and Pear Marketing Board.
   And like the National Bank, which hasn’t been New Zealand-owned for decades, people are happy to believe they are local. It was only when the National Bank changed its name to ANZ, the parent company, that some consumers balked and left—even though it was owned and run by ANZ for the good part of the past decade.
   Or we like to think that Holden is Australian when a good part of the range is designed and built in Korea by what used to be Daewoo—and brand that died out here in 2003. Holden hasn’t been Australian since the 1930s, when it became part of GM—an American company. However, for years it had the slogan, ‘Australia’s own car,’ but even the 48-215, the ur-Holden, was American-financed and developed along Oldsmobile lines.
   Similarly, Lemon & Paeroa has been, for a generation, American.
   Maybe it’s my own biases here, but I like seeing a strong New Zealand, with strong, Kiwi-owned firms having the nous and the strength to take on the big players at a global level.
   We can out-think the competition, so while we might not have the finances, we often have the know-how, that can grow if we are given the right opportunities and the right exposure. And, as we’ve seen, the right brands that can enter other markets and be aspirational, whether they play on their country of origin or not.
   Stripping away one of the layers when it comes to ownership might get us thinking about which are the locally owned firms—and which ones we want to support if we, too, agree that our own lot are better and should be stronger.
   And when it came to Google, it’s important to know that it has it in for the little guy. It’s less responsive, and it will fence with you until you can bring a bigger party to the table who might risk damaging its informal, well maintained and largely illusionary corporate motto.
   We only had Blogger doing the right thing when we piggy-backed off John Hempton having his blog unjustifiably deleted by Google, and the bad press it got via Reuter’s Felix Salmon on that occasion.
   We only had Google’s Ads Preferences Manager doing the right thing when we had the Network Advertising Initiative involved.
   Google only stopped tracking Iphone users using a hack via Doubleclick (I would classify it malware, thank you) on Safari when the Murdoch Press busted it.
   That’s the hat-trick right there. Something about the culture needs to change. It’s obviously not transparent.
   I don’t know what had Google lift the boycott after six days but we know it cleans itself up considerably more quickly when it has accidentally blacklisted The New York Times or its own YouTube. One thought I had is that the notion that Google re-evaluates your site in five hours is false. Even on the last analysis it did after I resubmitted Lucire took at least 16 hours, and that the whole matter took six days.
   But it should be a matter of concern for small businesses, especially in a country with a lot of SMEs, because Google will ride rough-shod over them based on its own faulty analyses. Reality shows that it happens, and when it does happen, you haven’t much recourse—unless you can find a lever to give it really bad publicity.
   We weren’t far off from issuing a press statement, and the one-week mark was the trigger. Others might not be so patient.
   If we had done that, I wonder if it would help people see more of the reality.
   Or should we support other search engines such as Duck Duck Go instead, and help the little guy out-think the big guys? Should there be a Kiwi search engine that actually doesn’t do evil?
   Or do we need to grow or work with some bigger firms here to prevent us being bullied by Google’s, and others’, incompetence?

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Opel is not a snob brand

19.01.2011
George Cole as Arthur Daley
Arthur Daley, Opel’s last New Zealand spokesman: ‘Never mind the Capri, Tel: I sell Opels now.’

In the Fairfax Press, General Motors has apparently confirmed it will bring in Opel-branded cars to sell alongside Holden-branded ones.
   It’s an obvious move. For years, a good part of Holden’s range was Opel-designed. Like Vauxhall, the model name was the same as the Opels on the Continent, but with Holden in front, with the exception of the Opel Corsa (called Holden Barina).
   In fact, New Zealand fielded the Holden Vectra before Australia introduced this model with the B series. The two markets have often differed—those old enough might remember the Holden-badged version of the Isuzu Aska, assembled locally as the Camira in favour of the Australian model.
   Australia, which I believe still has tariffs on motor cars, found the Opel-made product increasingly expensive, especially against Hyundai, which has carved huge inroads into the market.
   In the mid-2000s, the Opels began disappearing in favour of Daewoos. The Opel Corsa C gave way to the inferior Daewoo Kalos. The Opel Vectra C, never facelifted, gave way to the Daewoo Tosca. The Daewoo Lacetti was inserted below the Opel Astra G and H, though the latest Lacetti Première, badged Holden Cruze, has supplanted both the former Lacetti and the Astra.
   In other words, Holden’s product was outclassed at every level by its principal rival Ford—certainly on this side of the Tasman, where CD-segment vehicles sell particularly well. Maybe Holden had Ford licked on price, but in terms of brand equity, it was falling fast. Perceived quality? Forget it. Brand loyalty? Don’t think it’s going to happen. There is very little that’s desirable about a Daewoo, though I admit to appreciating the Winstorm SUV’s styling. The car as a commodity? That’ll be the Daewoo.
   The Astra still has a lot of fans in Australia, so the plan is to bring in that model at least—and as affordable, European cars, positioning roughly where Volkswagen is. Corsa, Insignia and others will come in as well, with both a new dealer network and some Holden dealers.
   The analysts have found that in Europe, Chevrolet (Eurospeak for Daewoo) has not cannibalized Opel sales. No surprises there. Take me: an Opel customer. I wrote to Holden some years ago, when they threatened to bring in the Daewoo Tosca, that there was no way in heck I would get one of their cars. I’m willing to bet that I wasn’t alone in feeling that way, and the fact the Tosca looks like a Seoul taxicab helps my argument.
   Why not, I said, bring in Opels and pursue a unique model strategy, as GMNZ did in the 1980s and 1990s?
   The question now is price. Opels were sold here in the 1980s at a premium and found few customers. It was only with the 1989 introduction of the Vectra A, at a reasonable price, that GM began clawing back market share in that segment. New Zealanders didn’t seem to mind whether the car was branded Opel or Holden, but when it did become a Holden in 1994, it made marketing a great deal easier.
   Fairfax hints that Opels will carry a premium in Australia. But it rightly points out that Ford has European-sourced models that are competitive. However, I can make one thing very clear for New Zealand: if GM decides to reintroduce Opel into this market, where there are no tariffs on cars, it’ll have to be positioned against a lot of the competition from Ford. I have a feeling most Kiwis know they are buying German engineering when they head to the blue oval, with the exception of the Falcon, and Ford’s marketing has said as much.
   We’ve had a different history from the Australians, and the brand has different connotations. It’s certainly not premium, and there’s very little reason for it to be. Ford might have had Dennis Waterman as Terry McCann singing the Minder “feem toon” do a dealer ad here in New Zealand, but, remember, GM had George Cole, as Arthur Daley, sell the Opel.
   George Cole is not premium.
   Mainstream European brands have failed time and again with premium pricing here. Peugeot lost sales when it began having ideas above its station. Renault has consistently got its pricing wrong and missed plenty of opportunities.
   I have a feeling some of this is due to New Zealanders being world travellers. In a small country, we have to look outward. And that brings us exposure to international brands very readily.
   We’ve also had plenty of used Japanese imports—including ex-Japan Opel Astra Gs.
   It may account for why we don’t fall for the fake snobbery that automakers have tried to slap us with for many years. We seem to adopt best practice on so many things because I believe we’re an accepting people.
   Transparency will be the order of the day. GM can’t afford to have Kiwis reject a brand for having ideas above its station should it go ahead with a similar effort over here. It has to balance (our relatively small) volume carefully with cannibalization. It has to consider whether it would like to have Holden’s brand equity continue to dip.
   Mind you, we could have avoided all this if in 1992 GM did what I suggested then: badge the whole lot as Opel.* It would have ruined the blokeyness of the Holden brand, but it would have had products that appealed to buyers of B-, C- and CD-segment cars. In 1992, a big Opel Commodore, VP series, wouldn’t have been too bad, would it? And we’d have hopefully avoided this Daewoo experiment that has made ‘Australia’s own’ synonymous with ‘Made in Korea’.

* I know, with hindsight, this would have been a rotten idea, especially with New Zealanders embracing the VT Commodore in 1997. It’s hard to imagine that model having greater success here with a non-Holden badge.—JY

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