Posts tagged ‘marketing’


Was it six networks or only five? In all this excitement, they’re ‘Still the One’

23.10.2020

I’m sure there are many, many more examples of this tune being used to promote TV networks, but it seems to be a standard in at least three countries I know, and probably far more besides.
   It is, of course, ‘Still the One’, which ABC used in the US to celebrate being the top-rated network there in 1977 for the second consecutive year. It was rare for ABC to be on top, but I think the general consensus was that jiggle TV got them there.
   Australia, which has always had a lot of US influences, then used it for Channel 9 in 1978 and included the original American footage. It would have been properly licensed but in the days before YouTube, and less international travel, few would have known of the origins.
   It was then adapted for the Murdoch Press’s Sky One satellite network in the UK the next decade (did they first see it in Australia?), before being revived by 9 in Australia in 1988. It was adapted once again for TVNZ’s Channel 2 here in New Zealand to kick off the 1990s.
   The slogan was used regularly by 9 as the 1990s dawned though new songs replaced the original, and by the end of the 1990s, both Channel 9 and its NBN sister were using the familiar tune again.
   Was that the end? In 2003, WIN, another Australian network, brought it back for their promos. As far as I can tell, WIN, a regional broadcaster, doesn’t have a connection to 9, but instead has an agreement with the Ten Network there. Just to make things confusing, 9 was using it at the same time, and it continued to do so into the mid-2000s.
   A quick internet search on Duck Duck Go reveals it was originally a song performed by the band Orleans in 1976, from their album Waking and Dreaming. The song was written by the then-married Johanna and John Hall. It charted at number five in the US. Given that it was used by ABC in 1977, it would have been a familiar tune to Americans at the time. I wonder if the Halls expected it would become a TV network standard in so many countries, and what did they think?
   Let me know if there are other countries and networks that used this—I’ve a feeling it went even further!

Orleans

ABC, USA

Channel 9, Australia (1978)

Sky One, UK

Channel 9, Australia (1988)

Channel 2, New Zealand

Channel 9 and NBN, Australia (1998)

WIN, Australia

Channel 9, Australia (2003)

Channel 9, Australia (2006)

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Netflix spams, Amazon doesn’t care

07.02.2020

It pays to have some ground rules when dealing with the internet. A very big one that I’m sure that you all observe is: don’t do business with spammers. If a Nigerian prince tells you he has $5 million for you, ignore him.
   There are tainted email lists that have been going around for years. I used to have filters for all sorts of permutations of my real address, back in the days when we had a “catch-all” email. My address definitely wound up on a South African spammers’ list in the late 1990s or early 2000s, and to this day I get South African spam from some respectable looking companies that took an unethical shortcut in compiling their targets. There’s a third where the spammer has confused the ‘company’ and ‘first name’ fields that began doing the rounds during the 2010s. All so easy to spot. If they claimed I signed up to their list, and don’t know my first and last names, then there’s a massive clue right there.
   This all begs the question of why a company with the size and reputation of Netflix feels the need to resort to such lists. Here’s the fourth one this Gregorian calendar year as they up their frequency of spam:


Netflix spam, shown actual size.

   There’s a thread online where one netizen was told by Netflix that someone else had signed them up, which is incredibly unlikely, and more likely an excuse to cover one’s dodgy behaviour.
   These began in November 2019 for me. The ‘This message was mailed to […] by Netflix because you created a Netflix account’ is untrue, and if it were true, how come there is no email confirmation of this account creation in any of my emails from 2019? Surely if you created one, Netflix would confirm your address at the very least? And if they don’t, then that’s pretty poor business practice.
   This isn’t a phishing attempt, as the links all go to Netflix and it’s come from Netflix’s account with Amazon, who doesn’t seem to do much about it. If you’d like to see a similar one, someone has posted it online at samplespam.com/messages/2019-07-20/V801I2196eM554074 but where they have a header line with ‘00948.EMAIL.REMARKETING_GLOBAL_SERIES_CORE_2_DAY_4.-0005.-5.en.UA’, mine has ‘00948.EMAIL.REMARKETING_GLOBAL_SERIES_CORE_2_DAY_4.-0005.-5.en.US’. (Netflix thinks I live in the US.)
   There’s no reply on Twitter. Nor was there any reply from this email that I sent to privacy@netflix.com last November:

The people they claim are in charge of privacy don’t care about privacy.
   I shan’t subscribe to Netflix any time soon because of Internet 101. If they don’t care about your privacy now, they’re probably not going to care about it after you’re a customer. In the 2020s, with people more sensitive about it, it’s foolhardy for Netflix to go against the trend. Right now, their email marketing has all the subtlety of a cheap scammer’s—just with nicer presentation.

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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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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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Business as usual at Wikipedia

27.12.2019

I know Wikipedia is full of fiction, so what’s one more?

   I know, you’re thinking: why don’t you stop moaning and go and fix it if it’s such a big deal?
   First up, for once I actually did try, as I thought the deletion of a sentence would be easy enough. But the site (or maybe my own settings) blocks me from editing, so that’s that.
   Secondly, it reinforces this blog post.
   This one sentence was presumably written by a New Zealander, and one who knows very little, though they have more editing privileges than me.
   Like the 12-year-old ‘Ford CE14 platform’ piece that only got corrected after I posted on Drivetribe, I have to ask: what possesses someone to invent fiction and to be so sure of themselves that they can commit it to an encyclopædia? (Incidentally, subsequent Wikipedians have reintroduced all the errors back on to the Ford page since editor Nick’s 2017 effort to correct it—you simply cannot cure Wikipedia of stupid.)
   I know we aren’t being set very good examples by American politicians (on both sides) and by British ones these days, but surely individual citizens have some sort of integrity when they go online to tell us how great they are?
   For the record, the Familia nameplate was never used here in the last generation for a new car—you only see it on Japanese imports. Secondly, the three-door BH shape was only ever sold here as a Ford Laser, never a Mazda—Familia, 323 or otherwise.
   “Post-truth” is nothing new: it’s been the way of Wikipedia for well over a decade. It was all foreshadowed online.
   It still begs the question why I don’t see such callous edits on the German or Japanese editions of that website.

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How to come third in a mayoral election

14.09.2019

One mayoral candidate recently asked me for my advice. I won’t name who it is, since I want those who contact me to know I’ll keep their communications in confidence.
   Now, the first thing to do is to get a time machine and ask me the same question 18 months earlier.
   But I can only provide tips for coming third in Wellington:

• have forward-thinking policies;
• appeal to thinking voters of all ages;
• resonate with younger voters who are most affected by them;
• frighten the establishment with common sense.

   I can’t advise how to win since I didn’t. Presumably it is to do the opposite of my approach?

• Use rose-coloured glasses;
• appeal to non-thinking voters of all ages;
• resonate with older voters more likely to vote;
• suck up to the establishment.

   This is with the greatest respect to many previous winners, who actually didn’t do all these things. But they make for a couple of fun Tweets.
   I repeat the call to administer the Voigt-Kampff test to all candidates.

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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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Keeping the Victoria in Victoria University of Wellington

08.08.2018

 

A letter I penned today to Prof Grant Guilford, Vice-Chancellor of Victoria University of Wellington. I support the official adoption of a Māori name (I thought it had one?) but removing Victoria is daft, for numerous reasons, not least the University’s flawed research, dealt with elsewhere.

Wellington, August 8, 2018

Prof Grant Guilford
Vice-Chancellor
Victoria University of Wellington
PO Box 600
Wellington 6011
New Zealand
 

Dear Prof Guilford:

Re. Name change for Victoria University of Wellington

There have been many arguments against why Victoria University of Wellington should change its name. Count me in as endorsing the views of Mr Geoff McLay, whose feedback the University has already received.
   To his comments, I would like to add several more.
   First, since I graduated from Vic for the fourth time in 2000, branding—a subject I have an above-average knowledge of, being the co-chair of the Swedish think tank Medinge Group and with books and academic articles to my name—has become a more bottom-up affair. In lay terms, all successful brands need their community’s support to thrive. Not engaging that community properly, and putting forth unconvincing arguments for change when asked, fails ‘Branding 101’ by today’s standards. I don’t believe those of us favouring the status quo are a minority. We’re simply the ones who have engaged with the University.
   As an alumnus, I have a great deal of pride in ‘Vic’, so much so that I have returned to support many of its programmes, namely Alumni as Mentors and the BA Internships. The University’s view of market-place confusion is, to my mind, a defeatist position, one which says, ‘Oh, there’s confusion, so let’s cede our position to the others who lay claim to “Victoria”.’ That’s not the attitude that I have toward our fine university.
   The alternative is to stand firm and build the brand on a global scale, something that is more than possible if the University were to adopt some lessons from international marketing and branding.
   I have done it numerous times professionally, and for New Zealand companies with strictly limited budgets, and the University has an enviable and proud network of alumni who, I suspect, are willing to help.
   Vic has told us for years it is ‘world-class’, and I expect it to stand by those claims—including confidence in its own name, not unlike the great universities in the US and UK. A lot of it is in the way the brand is positioned. Confidence goes a long way, including confidence in saying, ‘This is the real Victoria.’
   Kiwis are adept at being more authentic, something which a strong branding campaign would highlight.
   As alumnus, and fellow St Mark’s old boy, Callum Osborne notes, if there is to be a geographic qualifier, New Zealand has far more brand equity than Wellington, so if a change is to occur, then ‘Victoria University of New Zealand’ is an appropriate way forward.
   ‘University of Wellington’ says little, and there are Wellingtons elsewhere, too.
   This isn’t about apeing others, but being so distinct in the way the University communicates, symbolizes and differentiates itself to all of its audiences. To be fair, I have only seen pockets of that since graduating, yet I believe it is possible, and it can be unlocked.
 

Yours respectfully,
 

Jack Yan, LL B, BCA (Hons.), MCA

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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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Ford to stop selling passenger cars in the US and Canada, save for Mustang and Focus Active

26.04.2018


The Ford Focus Active: by the turn of the decade, this will be the only four-door passenger car Ford will sell in the US and Canada

In a surprise move, Ford has announced that it will cease selling passenger cars in the US and Canada by the early 2020s, excepting the Mustang and the Focus Active.
   The announcement was actually for ‘North America’ but as Ford of México does a reasonable trade on Figos and Fiestas, it’s hard to see the policy be uniform right across the continent.
   It’s a cost-cutting exercise, designed to save $25,500 million in five years, and trucks and SUVs simply make more money for them. Small cars mean small profits. In fact, car sales lag those of the F-series, Escape and Explorer in the US. Shares have risen on the news.
   That means Americans and Canadians will say goodbye to the Fiesta, Fusion (the four-door sedan counterpart to the Mondeo) and Taurus, the last of which is already superseded in China. If you liked the cooking RS and STs, then too bad. Lincolns are losing money for Ford, too, so maybe the Continental will vanish—given the Fusion is history, the MKZ will follow. That doesn’t leave much in the Lincoln line-up.
   My initial reaction was that the economies of scale would worsen: if you’re not developing for a global market, will development costs be successfully amortized in the same period? We have, however, seen the Japanese do reasonably well with products strictly for the North American market, e.g. certain Acuras and Hondas that are sold only in their neck of the woods. We also know most of the costs of the car are in the platform and architecture, and Ford has shown decent adaptability, particularly with the C519 Focus (the recently released Mk IV).
   Ford says the cuts will come from sales and marketing, engineering and product development, as well as material costs, manufacturing and IT, in that order, according to Automotive News.
   The fact that product development and engineering rank so highly there is worrying to me.
   They’re bandying the word efficiency about a lot, and that always has me worried. That’s the word you used to hear from corporate raiders like Slater Walker. Things can look efficient while they’re being weakened.
   CEO Jim Hackett says he’s feeding the healthy parts of the business, ‘and deal decisively with the parts that destroy value.’
   While it’s true that the crossover, SUV and truck markets are strong, as they are in many parts of the world, I can’t help but think that Ford isn’t preparing itself for tougher future scenarios.
   Energy crises can come unpredictably, for one. Ford was late to the downsizing game in the 1970s because it saw the dollar signs with big cars. By 1977, GM had stolen a real march on Ford. By the turn of the decade, Chrysler was back from the brink with fuel-efficient cars while Ford sailed into the red.
   Chrysler found itself too truck- and SUV-heavy with the recession of the late 2000s, and its entry-level nameplate Plymouth had already vanished, thanks to mismanagement by Daimler earlier in the century.
   While there’s not always a need for a full line—AMC taught us that extending yourself too far isn’t always wise—I wonder if Ford is leaving itself vulnerable.
   Crossovers like the Escape, which might outsell the Fusion, are being beaten in the market-place by the likes of the Toyota RAV4, so it’s not as though Ford is that strong in all the markets it wishes to remain in.
   GM, having pulled out of Europe and Russia, might be in better shape because of its position in China. Ford trails GM when it comes to its Chinese footprint, although it will remain in Europe.
   Ford’s Jim Farley says the company is looking at new types of vehicles that are spacious, versatile and economical, which hopefully will fill the gap should economic surprises surface. Because you need something cheap to hook buyers and get them to the brand. That’s not going to happen if Focus Active is the smallest car in the line-up.
   Ford is likely to have these on global platforms. But that signals to me a real need to remain strong in R&D. Failing that, Ford is looking to partner up with someone, and it may already have an idea who that is.
   I am speculating here, since I don’t have any figures outlining what proportion of revenue is devoted to that area.
   Nevertheless, this sounds like an appeasement of Wall Street.
   That leaves one concern over nameplates. Ford has successfully introduced nameplates over the years because the product was right: Cortina, Mustang, Escort, Capri, Fiesta and Focus among them. But it has also failed by killing nameplates and replacing them with ones that had no real goodwill, such as Five Hundred and Freestyle.
   Whatever Ford has in mind, I hope for their sake that the new product is compelling, as much as the Mustang and Fiesta were when they appeared on the market. Both emerged in the wake of economic recessions, with Ford innovating because it had to.
   In this century, Alan Mulally’s time at Ford had a measured, sensible approach, where you could understand the future. There are question marks over what Hackett has planned, and usually we have some clue what these new products will be four years out. All I know of is that the Ranger will make it to the US again, boosting truck sales, but that’s hardly an innovation. That’s just filling a market niche with familiar product.
   Will Ford do Brasil come up with something that can be sold in both North and South America? Perhaps the next-generation Ecosport?
   There are lessons in history that shouldn’t be ignored, and Ford has one of the most interesting pasts of any car maker. There is, however, a feeling from the announcement that this heralds a time of retrenchment, as its profits fall globally, and net income in the US rising for the first quarter in part due to a lower tax rate.
   Remember, Isuzu also once thought it was a good idea to stop selling passenger cars and focus on SUVs and trucks. And they’re no longer around in North America.

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