Posts tagged ‘Thailand’


Have you driven a Ford … lately? Probably not

13.09.2021


Ford’s Brazilian line-up, 2021. Once upon a time, there were locally developed Corcels and Mavericks; even the EcoSport was a Brazilian development. Today, it’s Mustang, a couple of trucks, and a rebadged Chinese crossover.

We heard a lot about the demise of Holden as GM retreats from continents at a time, seemingly in a quest to be a Sino-American player rather than a global one. We’ve heard less about Ford shrinking as well, though the phenomenon is similar.
   Ford’s Brazilian range is now the Mustang, Ranger, Territory (which is fundamentally a badge-engineered Yusheng S330 from China with a Fordized interior), and Bronco. It’s beating a retreat from Brazil, at the cost of tens of thousands of jobs (its own, plus associated industries’) in a country that already has 15 per cent unemployment.
   Their reasoning is that electrification and technological change are driving restructuring, which seems plausible, till you realize that in other markets, including Thailand where there’s still a plant making Fords, the company is fielding essentially trucks, the truck-based Everest, and the Mustang.
   Ford warned us that this would be its course of action a few years ago, but now it’s happening, it makes even less sense.
   Say it’s all about (eventual) electrification. You’d want vehicles in your portfolio now that lend themselves to energy efficiency, so that people begin associating your brand with it. Trucks and pony cars don’t fit with this long-term. And I still believe that at some point, even before trucks commonly have electric powertrains, someone is going to say, ‘These tall bodies with massive frontal areas are using up way more of the juice I’m paying for. We don’t need something this big.’
   Let’s say Ford quickly pivots. It sticks a conventional saloon body on the Mustang Mach-E platform (which, let’s be honest, started off as a Focus crossover—the product code, CX727, tells us as much) in record time. Would anyone buy it? Probably not before they see what the Asians, who don’t abandon segments because they can’t be bothered working hard, have in their showrooms. Toyota, Honda, Hyundai, Mazda, and countless Chinese marques, have been building their goodwill in the meantime.
   It’s why two decades ago, I warned against DaimlerChrysler killing off its price-leading brand, Plymouth. You never know when recessionary times come and you want an entry-level brand. Before the decade was out, that time came, and Chrysler didn’t have much it could use without diluting its existing brands’ market perceptions to have some price leaders.
   Ford retreating from B- and C-segment family cars, even CD- and E-segment ones, means it’ll find it difficult to get back into those markets later on. A good example would be the French, who don’t find much success in the large saloon market generally, and would find it very hard to re-enter in a lot of places.
   I realize the action isn’t in regular passenger cars these days, but the fact that Fiat, Chevrolet and Volkswagen still manage to field broad lines in Brazil suggests that the market still exists and they can still eke out some money from their sales.
   It’s as though the US car firms are giving up, ceding territory. And on this note, Ford has form.
   In the 1990s, Ford’s US arm under-marketed the Contour and Mystique Stateside, cars based on the original European Mondeo. I saw precious little advertising for them in US motoring press. As far as I can tell, they wanted to bury it because they didn’t like the fact it wasn’t developed by them, but by Ford’s German-based team in Köln. ‘See, told you those Europeans wouldn’t know how to engineer a CD-segment car for the US.’ The fiefdom in Dearborn got its own way and later developed the Mazda-based Fusion, while the Europeans did two more generations of Mondeo.
   In the 2000s, it decided to flush the goodwill of the Taurus name down the toilet, before then-new CEO Alan Mulally saw what was happening and hurriedly renamed the Five Hundred to Taurus.
   It under-marketed the last generation of Falcon—you seldom saw them on forecourts—and that looked like a pretext for closing the Australian plant (‘See, no one wants big cars’) even though by this point the Falcon was smaller than the Mondeo in most measures other than overall length, and plenty of people were buying similarly sized rear-wheel-drive saloons over at BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
   The Mondeo hybrid has been another model that you barely hear of, even though the Fusion Hybrid, the American version of the car, had been on sale years before.
   Think about what they gave up. Here, Ford once owned the taxi market. It doesn’t any more as cabbies ultimately wound up in Priuses and Camrys. Had Ford fielded a big hybrid saloon earlier, Toyota might not have made inroads into the taxi market to the same extent. Ford almost seems apologetic for being in segments where others come to, and when challenging the market leaders, doesn’t put much effort in any more.
   Objectively, I would rather have a Mondeo Hybrid than a Camry, but good luck seeing one in a Ford showroom.
   Maybe Ford’s smart to be putting all its resources into growth areas like trucks and crossovers. Puma and Escape have appeal in the B- and C-segment crossover markets in places like New Zealand. They’re fairly car-like now, too. But to me that’s putting all your eggs into one basket. In countries like Brazil and Thailand, where Ford doesn’t sell well resolved crossovers in these segments, it’s treading a fine line. I look at the market leadership it once had in cars, in so many places, and in 2021 that looks like a thing of the past. More’s the pity.

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The founder’s image is tied to the business—or, why Elon Musk shouldn’t call someone a pædophile

16.07.2018

I have often said that each new technology often goes downhill when unsavoury parts of our society get to it. Email was fine before spammers, Wikipedia was fine without sociopaths, Blogger was fine without Google ownership, and Google was fine without an NYSE listing.
   But what does one make of Twitter? Once upon a time, it was a decent place to hang out. Ask Stephen Fry.
   Today, however, with all sorts of people on it, the post-spammer, post-sociopath stage appears to be: watch the rich lose it.
   Those who don’t like President Trump might think I’m thinking of him, but it was actually Elon Musk, whose efforts on so many fronts I have publicly admired, who seems to be the latest in turning his corner of Twitter into an angry man’s rant record.
   Not long ago, I saw Musk argue with a Tweeter about economics and blocking him. Of course it’s everyone’s prerogative to block as they see fit, but I always remember what my parents told me when I was a child: the really powerful see the big picture. They don’t sweat the small stuff. And this seems like someone sweating the small stuff. Even if he is the 53rd richest person in the world.
   From Techcrunch (hat tip to Adeline Chua):

There’s more on that story here.
   Quoting Adeline:

   I’m not sure what Musk intends with all of these Tweets, but I’m losing respect for the man. He probably wouldn’t care what I think, but then, going on the earlier Tweets, he probably does.
   As someone who leads a much, much smaller bunch of companies, I know the boss’s public statements do impact on the rest of the team, and how your firm’s perceived.
   If we look at the rich, Sir Richard Branson is a great ambassador for his ventures and is careful about what he says. His brands are tied in with his personal image, and he’s well aware of that. Elon Musk is not an exception: his personality and announcements are keeping Tesla’s faithful invested in the brand, for instance.
   On the one hand, it’s great that Twitter is a great leveller. But with that comes other risks. If it is a leveller, bringing everyone to the level of the village merchant, then we can make a choice about whom we deal with.
   In a real-life village, when we walk round, we may choose to buy from certain people and not others, because of how we’re treated or what their reputation’s like.
   In this virtual village, we have one of the wealthiest players ranting in the corner.
   And therein lies the risk for Tesla and SpaceX. Maybe he’s so confident at his lead that, with or without him, his dreams can come true. It would be great if we did have more electric cars and more affordable space exploration. However, while the founder is still young, alive and kicking, I’m afraid these ventures are still very much tied to how we perceive him. I’m not sure that being a rich, angry Tweeter who calls a rescuer a ‘pedo’ is the image that a Tesla buyer, for instance, wants to be associated with.
   Frankly, if we’re going to remember anyone in the whole Thai cave rescue, let it be Saman Kunan, the former Thai navy SEAL diver who lost his life.

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Posted in branding, business, culture, internet, media, USA | 3 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 »


Thinking to the future as Lucire turns 15

21.10.2012

I’ve written so many editorials about Lucire’s history for our various anniversaries that now we’ve turned 15, I feel like I’d just be going over old ground. Again. I’d do it maybe for the 20th or 21st, but the story has been told online and in print many times.
   But 15 is a bit more of an occasion than, say, the ninth—so it deserves some recognition. The biggie this week is not so much that we have turned 15, but that we have officially announced a print-on-demand edition to complement our others in print and online, one that sees Lucire printed off as it’s ordered. It combines what we know—the digital world—with an analogue medium that everyone understands. It also gets around that sad reality that for every 1,000 copies printed, 500 usually wind up getting returned due to being unsold and pulped. In publishing, two-thirds sold qualifies as having “sold out”. And that’s not really that great for the first fashion magazine that the United Nations Environment Programme calls an industry partner.
   We’re also celebrating the Ipad and Android editions, which actually launched in August but we didn’t get an announcement out till September. We also débuted a PDF download via Scopalto in France, and there’s one more edition that we’ll announce before the year is out.
   So rather than look back—which is what we found ourselves doing at the 10th anniversary, at a time when the recession was about to bite and there was just an inkling of a fear that our best days were behind us—we’re now looking forward with some relish and wondering just how these new editions will play out.
   If I were to take a look back to 1997, it would be to remark that being the first (at least for New Zealand) does not necessarily translate to being the most profitable. You carve out a niche that no one else had done before, prove a point, and someone else makes it work a bit better. So is the lesson in commerce.
   It used to bug me but no more; we have a good record of doing things in a pioneering fashion, and when you look at Lucire, it’s one of the very few fashion titles from the original dot-com era that’s still being published today, and in more forms than we had imagined. We were always happy to put value labels right next to pricier ones in coverage or in editorials, because that is how real people dress, and because we based our coverage on merit rather than advertising budgets. We looked at the advertising market at a global, rather than regional, level, something which we see some agencies taking advantage of as greater convergence happens in that market.
   I like to think that some day, all magazines will be printed as we’re doing them, but from more bases around the world, to alleviate the burden on our resources. They’ll be, as I predicted many years back, mini, softcover coffee-table books, publications to covet, and be less temporary. (I also said newspapers will become more like news magazines, but I live in a city where dailies are still printed as broadsheets, which reminds me that predictions can often take a lot longer to be realized.) Features will dominate ahead of short-term, flash-in-the-pan news, a path which the 28th New Zealand-produced Lucire issue takes, and something foreshadowed by Twinpalms Lucire in Thailand five years ago.
   We’re also in a very enviable position with a cohesive team. You could say it’s taken us 15 years to find them. At 1 p.m. local time on October 20—15 years and one hour after we launched—our London team met to toast our 15th anniversary, while fashion editor Sopheak Seng, Louise Hatton, Michael Beel and Natalie Fisher worked on a photo shoot today in New Zealand for issue 29. Around the world, our team continues to deliver regular content, and I hope they’ll forgive me for not naming everyone as I fear accidental omissions. Just as I felt a little uncertain but excited about where things would lead with Lucire on October 21, 1997–the 20th in the US—I have a similar feeling today. And that’s a good thing, because if we’ve managed to get on the radars of millions in those last 15 years, I’m hopeful of the changes we can effect in the next 15.


Above: Lucire copies get finished at Vertia Print in Lower Hutt.

Also published in Lucire.

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