Posts tagged ‘Toyota’


How will things play out at Fiat?

02.04.2016


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

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

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


Calculating 2012’s top selling car: Focus or Corolla?

20.04.2013

I see that Toyota is upset that R. L. Polk named the Ford Focus the top-selling car in the world for 2012. Motor Trend has since reported the story as Polk naming the Focus as the top selling ‘nameplate’, but that hasn’t stopped Toyota from throwing a wobbly.
   I can’t locate the Polk report on its website, but maybe it’s a fair call for Toyota. Bloomberg Businessweek says that the Matrix and Auris could be counted, bumping Toyota’s numbers, since they are all Corolla-based.
   Ford fans, however, can say that the C-Max and Grand C-Max should form part of the total.
   I’m certain that Polk would have counted the current Japanese Corollas, the E160 model, into its total, but these have a different platform altogether—they are, in fact, on the Vitz (Yaris) platform, but they were released in 2012. If we’re to take Toyota’s argument about cars on the same platform, then we need to subtract all its E160 Japanese sales from Polk’s total and they should be grouped with the Vitz.
   Since I can’t find the methodology, then the jury is still out, but Toyota, of all companies, should know the nameplate argument well. It has, after all, sold very different Corollas in different parts of the world, even when we look at the previous generation. Many Asian markets had a narrower model, 1,700 mm wide, while countries like the US, Australia and New Zealand received a much wider one. However, calling them all Corolla beefs up the total. Surely it can’t get upset at Ford actually selling a single car these days as the Focus, unlike the situation in the 2000s when the US and Canada had an older-platform one compared to the rest of the world?
   Perhaps the people at the Best Selling Cars Blog have it right instead. I’ve talked to these guys about their methodology, and they typically group identical cars together (e.g. the Buick Excelle XT is counted in the Opel Astra J total, since they are the same car). There, Toyota is top dog, and the publication acknowledges that it counts Auris and Matrix (and Rumion, but at Autocade, we catalogue that as Corolla Rumion). It also counts older Corollas still being built in places such as China (BSCB notes that it includes ‘Corolla IX, X, XI and Altis’), which I think should be allowed, since they were developed as Corollas. All Corolla variants total 1,097,132 versus 1,036,683 for the Ford Focus. They do, however, count the C-Max separately (130,036), but at least that’s clear from their stats.
   So, if we were to use comparable methodologies and allow the minivan spinoffs to be counted for both ranges, then that should show the following:

Ford Focus, plus C-Max: 1,166,719
Toyota Corolla, including Auris, Matrix and Rumion, the E160 variants based on the smaller Vitz, and all older generations still in production: 1,097,132

   My impression, based only on these online data, is that Ford is on top, and the only way for Toyota to get a higher number is to count the clones in China that it officially disapproves of: the BYD F3, the BYD Surui, and the Geely Vision.
   Another spot of news today, closer to home for me: Autocade has crossed the 3,000,000 views’ mark. My thanks to all netizens for their browsing and for making it part of their online automotive resources. Good to know many of you come to a Kiwi site—indeed, a Wellington one—to get your global car info.

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Posted in branding, business, cars, media, USA | 1 Comment »


One for the Japanese-car buffs

30.01.2011

And with this, all the Toyota Coronas are on Autocade, with the exception of the Corona Mark II models (really forming a line in its own right).

Image:Toyota_Corona_EXiV_(ST200).jpgToyota Corona EXiV (ST200). 1993–8 (prod. unknown). 4-door hardtop sedan. F/F, F/A, 1838, 1998 cm³ (4 cyl. DOHC). Larger EXiV, still twinned with Carina ED, continuing the same formula as before. Wider than the 1,700 mm limit imposed by Japanese taxation laws and more expensive as a consequence. Rounder lines. Four-wheel drive from 1994. Deleted 1998 as these styles became less popular in the compact- and mid-sized sectors.

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Toyota’s recent “30-degree” scandal in China

16.03.2010

Sam Flemming in Advertising Age mentioned the scandal that Toyota has been embroiled in inside China, before a lot of the bad press it received in the occident over “unintended acceleration”.
   This involved a netizen, an owner of a Toyota Highlander Sport, filming that his SUV was unable to get up a 30-degree incline, something which “lesser” models such as the Korean-built Renault Koleos, and even the subcompact Chery QQ—one of the cheapest cars around in China—could manage.
   The following news item reveals more. It’s in Mandarin and dates from December 22, 2009.   The news investigators show that even a Daewoo Lacetti (Buick Excelle in China) and a Chery van could manage the same slope, and confirm that the Highlander could not do it.
   They are not alone. Jitendra Patel filmed this with his 2009 Highlander earlier last year:

   As Sam says, this issue has brewed thanks to the Chinese internet which, while not as free as it is in most countries, still seems to create active consumers’ groups. People will rally as individuals if the cause is right—and consumers seem to be rediscovering their power, online.

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Posted in business, cars, China, culture, internet, media, TV | No Comments »


Jailed Minnesota Toyota owner may get retrial

27.02.2010

You can’t help but wonder (without reading the court transcripts and judgement) how the sentencing of Koua Fong Lee could be so harsh. In 2006, Lee’s Toyota Camry, with his pregnant wife, daughter, brother and father on board, accelerated out of control and smashed into an Oldsmobile, killing three people in the second car back in 2006. The judge threw the book at him, giving him the maximum eight years, even though Lee, a recent immigrant, was adamant he was hard on the brakes and not the accelerator at the time of the accident. I don’t know Minnesotan criminal law, but one would think this churchgoing man, with no prior crimes, lacked the mens rea to deserve the full sentence; unless it was cumulative for the three deaths.
   Investigations showed there was nothing wrong with the brakes—but, with hindsight, there could have been something wrong with the accelerator or the cruise control, considering that Lee’s Camry was going at 90 mph when it hit the Oldsmobile.
   What we can very likely say was that this was not the America that Koua Fong Lee expected to emigrate to.
   While the 1996 Camry Lee drove was not part of the Toyota recall, American media suggest that some of these models were repaired for faulty cruise controls. Chances are he will get a retrial, so in light of this new evidence, let’s hope the Lees, and the Adams and Boltons who lost their family members, will see some justice.

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Posted in cars, USA | 1 Comment »


Toyota’s troubles stem from forgetting its principles

06.02.2010

I was surprised to learn that Toyota still has not issued a worldwide recall of its troublesome Prius NHW30 model, even though one had gone out in New Zealand.
   In layman’s terms, the brakes allegedly don’t work when you want them to. In more complex terms, the software has trouble distinguishing between different types of braking, and drivers may experience a delay in ‘pedal feel’.
   I was always a bit sceptical about the recalls over the unintended acceleration, given that the last time I heard those words, they were in relation to a falsified report from CBS’s 60 Minutes, a show known to me for making up stories (Killian memoranda, anyone?). Hearing them again, I thought it was just another excuse for the clumsy driving of a few individuals who couldn’t figure out where the accelerator was (which was what happened with Audi in the US). But it seems this matter has been around for a long time, and recalls were being done even last year.
   But the Prius matter, something that has not come under a global recall, appears more serious than carpets getting in the way, which is the problem behind the unintended acceleration complaints. AFP reports:

The Transport Ministry has received some 80 complaints in February about malfunctions in the brake system of the latest model of the flagship Prius, the Tokyo Shimbun reported without quoting sources.
   Five of them were actual crashes in which the drivers claimed the brakes did not work properly, the daily said, adding that the ministry would urge the company to launch an investigation.
   It was not possible to immediately confirm the report.

   Already Toyota has been berated by top management for going too far from its core principles by its honorary chairman, Shoichiro Toyoda. The company had been trying to sell big cars in China during the financial crisis, and spent a good part of the 2000s developing large pick-up trucks for the US market. Bloomberg reported last June that a meeting was called:

Shoichiro scolded the president [Katsuaki Watanabe] for being so anxious to boost sales and profits that he’d let Toyota emulate now bankrupt General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC. Toyota had become addicted to big, expensive cars and trucks and had forgotten the customers’ need to save money, Shoichiro said, according to the person’s account.

   In other words, Toyota’s culture has been suffering, and we all know what happens when sales’ volume and profit are pursued at the expense of quality or engineering. (Ask Mercedes-Benz.)
   Toyota may be an example where too many niches were created, simply to get consumers in the showrooms—and now that’s coming to bite it on the rear end. Having too many niches has one immediate drawback: consumers no longer understand the structure of the range. Is the small car the iQ, Ist, Vitz, Porte, Belta or Passo? Do I move from that to a Corolla, Auris, Blade, Corolla Rumion, Probox, Raum, RAV4 or wotsis?
   The mistakes are understandable in some ways. Toyota had to create more new models as attention spans shortened. While a car might be able to be presented as “new” for two years in the Japanese market 10 years ago, consumers expect something else within half a year. To fund this appetite, the company looked for ways to maximize profits in every market—with the US one fuelled by bigger and bigger vehicles. It had to take costs out of cars, especially with electronics (by combining as many functions on to one system as possible) and architecture—and it may be these areas where the Prius suffered.
   But no company can really afford to pursue too many niches—Mazda overextended itself in the late 1980s and early 1990s, as did Nissan in the early 1990s—when times are tough. Toyota should have forecast a downturn, as many business experts did. The question that the company needs to ask itself is: what made it so blind in the 2000s?
   Even ignoring the idea of unintended acceleration for now, Toyota ends the lunar year on a low. It will always have its diehard followers—there are many models not affected by these issues—but the company must refocus its brand for the New Year toward its traditional principles. There is every sign the company knows that, with Akio Toyoda, the founder’s grandson, now at the helm, and doing spot checks down on the production floor. (I’d rather Toyota have someone like that than a “celebrity CEO” who gives good press. The era of the celebrity boss is over for now.) It is simply a pity that the company did not get on to its mounting problems—there are claims that unintended acceleration reports began surfacing with Toyota’s Lexus ES model as early as 2004—sooner.
   Few buy a Toyota because the cars make one’s heart beat faster. They are a default choice for many people who want the simplest conveyance from A to B. Akio’s job has been reminding his own team of that, and reinstituting the ‘Toyota Way’ and kaizen, terms that many of us who went to business school during a certain era recall.

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Posted in branding, business, cars, culture, leadership, marketing, media, New Zealand, technology, USA | 4 Comments »