Posts tagged ‘trend’


Too many white cars make fake news

17.09.2017


A photo taken in Wellington with a test car I had for Lucire. White cars aren’t the over-represented colour in New Zealand: guess from this photo what is.

A friend of mine put me on to this Fairfax Press Stuff article, entitled ‘Silly Car Question #16: Why are there so many white cars?’. It’s a silly question all right, because I haven’t noticed this phenomenon in New Zealand at all, and if any colour is over-represented, it’s the silver–grey tones. It seems like “fake news”, and if you read on, then there’s more to support that assertion.
   ‘It’s because every second car imported from Asia is white – literally. Latest research tells us that 48 per cent of all vehicles manufactured in Asia, particularly Japan, are painted white.’ (My friend, of Chinese descent, summarized jokingly, ‘It’s our fault,’ and my thought was, ‘Not again.’)
   Let’s break this one sentence down. The author says that we source a lot of our used cars from Japan, hence this 48 per cent figure is reflected in the New Zealand fleet. But you only need to ask yourself a simple question here: how many of those white cars made in Japan (or Korea, or India, or Thailand) stay in those countries to become used imports to New Zealand? These nations are net exporters of cars, so whatever trickles on to the Japanese home market will be a smaller percentage of that 48. How many are white—we don’t have that statistic, but, as I noted, it’s certainly not reflected in the cars on our roads. Now, if we’re talking Tahiti, where there are a lot of white cars, then that’s another story—and that is likely to do with white reflecting light in a hot climate. As this is a foreign-owned newspaper group, then perhaps the author does not live in New Zealand, or if he does, maybe he hangs around taxi ranks a lot.
   Let’s go a bit further: ‘Statistics gathered by Axalta Coating Sytems, a leading global supplier of liquid and powder coatings, showed that worldwide 37 per cent of all new vehicles built during 2016 were painted white, which was up two percentage points on 2015’ and ‘All this leads to the next obvious question: why are all these cars painted white? / It may be because that’s what the manufacturers want.’
   From what I can tell, this article was cobbled together from two sets of statistics. A bit of research wouldn’t have been remiss. However, it is a sign of the times, and even we’re guilty of taking a release at face value to get news out. But the result on Stuff just doesn’t make much sense.
   James Newburrie, a car enthusiast and IT security specialist, has a far more reasonable answer to the high number of silver (and dull-coloured, which includes white) cars, which he gave me permission to quote in May 2016:

Car colours are fairly well correlated with consumer confidence. In an environment where consumer confidence is high, regular cars are likely to be available in all sorts of bright and lurid colours (purple, green, yellow, etc). As consumer confidence tanks, people start to think more about resale value and they chose more “universal” colours (the kind of colours no one hates: Silver, conservative blues, etc).
   Cars directed at young people tend to be cheaper and maintain strong colours throughout the cycle – but to keep costs down they tend to stay around red, black, white, blue and silver, perhaps with one “girly” colour if it is a small car. Cars directed to financially secure people as second cars, like sports cars for instance, tend to be more vibrantly coloured, because your buying into the dream.
   So, in the 1950s while the economy was good, people bought cars in bright colours with lots of colours, the oil crisis comes along and they go to white and beige, the 80s come along and we all vomit from car colours, the recession we had to have leads to boredom, then everything is awesome again and you can buy a metallic purple Falcon, or a metallic orange commodore – then the great recession and we’re all bored to death again.
   Consumer confidence probably is just starting to recover now. If history is any indication, there will be a point where people just go “oh screw worrying” and then they will see that other people aren’t worried anymore and they’ll say “screw worrying” etc … and we will snap back.

   Follow that up with what car dealers are now selling, and bingo, you might have a serviceable article.

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Where did all the manual transmissions go?

08.05.2016


Above: The gear selector in the BMW i3, as tested in Lucire. See here for the full road test.

When I was searching for a car to buy after my previous one was written off in an accident, one no-brainer was that it had to be a manual. It can’t be that hard, right? After all, when I bought my earlier Renault Mégane in 2004, about 70 per cent of the market was manual.
   It turns out that in 11 years, things changed a lot in New Zealand. Somewhere along the line we became the United States or Japan, places where you get the impression people are afraid of manual gearboxes. We also changed our laws so that someone who is licensed to drive an automatic is permitted to drive a manual, so unlike the UK, manuals no longer became the default option for someone who wanted the freedom to drive both.
   I had the sense that New Zealand had become 80 per cent automatic, based on scanning car sales’ periodicals and websites. A quick scan of Auto Trader NZ last week, where there were 27,925 cars for sale, gave this break-down:

Automatic: 21,380 (76·6%)
CVT: 546 (2·0%)
Manual: 3,036 (10·9%)
Tiptronic: 2,963 (10·6%)

In fact, a traditional manual, one with gears you change with a clutch, comprises considerably less than 20 per cent.
   One friend, like me, specifically sought a manual in 2015, and asked me to scan through websites. In the greater Wellington region, cars matching his other criteria on engine size and price numbered a grand total of two, one in Eastbourne and the other in Upper Hutt. He eventually had to go outside his criteria to buy a manual.
   I visited one dealership in Lower Hutt where one of the senior salespeople told me that was what the market demanded, so they followed suit, as he tried to sell me an automatic, Turkish-made car. This claim was, based on my own research, bollocks.
   Granted, this research was of a sample of my 2,300 Facebook friends, but of those who responded, it appeared to be evenly divided. Some of the comments were along the lines of, ‘I wanted a manual, but I had no choice, so I bought an automatic.’
   If I didn’t have a second car (since sold to a friend who also preferred manuals), I could have found myself looking at doing the same—just because I needed wheels in a hurry. Or I could have bought a car that did not meet all my needs, one that was “near enough”. But if you are spending a five-figure sum, and you intend to hold on to the car for the next decade, is this such a wise thing to do? A car is an investment for me, not a fashion item.
   That earlier Renault took me four months to find in a market that wasn’t so heavily biased against manuals in the mid-2000s, and this time out, I wound up searching for eight. Most people don’t have that luxury.
   The most evident explanation for the overwhelming numbers of automatics is that so many used cars are sourced from Japan, but it’s really not what all people want.
   I’ve nothing against the half of the population who prefer automatics, but they are just not my sort of thing. These days, the most advanced automatics are more economical than manuals, but generally, you still get a few more mpg from a car you shift yourself. I enjoy driving, and automatics blunt that enjoyment for me, but I’m sure others don’t mind them as much.
   In future blog posts I’ll touch on this subject again, and I’ll be penning a story for Classic Car Weekly in the UK on the whole saga of buying a new car. Who knew that, despite being armed with money, it would be such an uphill task to find someone to give it to?
   It also suggests that if someone wishes to specialize in manuals, they would be tapping in to a large, unserved chunk of the New Zealand market.

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Remember back when we wrote status updates on Facebook?

01.03.2015

I said things along these lines for a while: there’s Facebook fatigue, Facebook is the new Digg, etc. Based on who I am seeing leave Facebook lately, there’s increasingly more truth to this. I scrolled down my own wall earlier today to find a bunch of links to other stuff. If you’re wanting to know what I am up to, you’re better off messaging me and asking: ‘What are you up to?’ It’s refreshingly old-fashioned, kind of like when we had pen pals, carefully selecting the right stamps to go with personal correspondence.
   I don’t think there’s any one cause to this. I was writing about Facebook fatigue long before Edward Snowden made us all worry about NSA snooping. (Interestingly, a caption of mine on Instagram changed yesterday: a chunk from the middle of the sentence vanished along with my hashtags. It makes you wonder: even though I don’t suspect spooks, I do think Google Android and the apps are dodgy, and we all know the former sends plenty of data to the authorities.) But the fact is telling all your friends about what you are doing is tiresome. It’s not even that necessary.
   It’s not that you’ve become a less fascinating person, but it’s very much like my experience with blogging. Why haven’t I blogged about the nitty-gritty of branding and its theories lately? Largely because my viewpoints on how it all works haven’t changed a great deal in the last decade. Yes, we are applying those principles to a different world, and social media have altered the considerations behind them, but the underlying premise remains the same. This blog isn’t like your television where you have been able to watch, over the years, La femme Nikita, The Point of No Return, Nikita and Nikita. I haven’t been recast, you see, so there’s not that much point for me to retell some of the ideas I haven’t changed my mind on.
   And while every now and then I will waste your time by treading over the same ground (e.g. there is a very high probability I will have another whinge about Google), it’s my contrarian side creeping up, as if to say, ‘Wake up! Why is this brand, proven to be so dodgy, still doing so damned well in the surveys each year? What are you seeing that I am not in the face of all this evidence?’ And it’s only healthy that some of us play the contrarian.
   But when it comes to your real life, just what exactly changes? It’s not income-dependent, either. If you were Sir Richard Branson, for instance, I bet there are only so many times you want to tell people you are vacationing with celebrities on your own personal island. Now, if I suddenly had a personal island, that might just appear as my next status update. But not Sir Richard.
   As I type this on a Sunday during which I’ve had to work (deadlines loom) there wasn’t that much about the last 24 hours that was that interesting. Some relatives came by, and that doesn’t really seem to merit a status update. My work was very interesting, but confidential, so that doesn’t merit a status update. What does? Links about Leonard Nimoy do, of course, as well as that realization that all this time he had been wearing a gold and white outfit on the original series of Star Trek.
   As with my first days on Twitter, nearly a decade ago, I question whether anyone wishes to read about my culinary skills and the fact I made chicken drumsticks tonight; and while I did Instagram the roast chicken I made for New Year’s Eve I really didn’t think it was an æsthetically pleasing roast chicken, as far as roast chickens go. Our own lives are just that: they might well be good and at this point, my friends already know about mine. Write any more about it and it becomes a rerun.
   Facebook became Facebook really with the start of the recession. Many of us were on it before, especially if you were at Harvard during its nascent stage, but for me, recessions meant looking for new opportunities. One might as well explore this new website and this whole “social networking” lark to see where it would take us. Other than a brief pick-up with the release of Timeline, I wonder if we have now explored every nook and cranny of this same-again site, just as we have done with various Google properties. The only thing that would now make either more interesting is being able to see the nightly transmissions of personal data to the NSA writ large on the welcome page.
   If Facebook becomes a thing of the past, and of course it will, just as Altavista has, it will be due to the freedom we have on the internet. We might just have grown tired of retelling our stories. Which, to me, means the next big thing online will even be more exciting. We might just stop selling ourselves, becoming the fodder of Facebook and Google. We might even make some cool stuff of our own. Or we might even find a little bit of joy writing about our thoughts long-form, just as I have done.

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Posted in business, internet, publishing, USA | 2 Comments »


MG SUV soon a reality: good

06.02.2014

I have to admit I get a bit bored of those crying foul now that MG will launch an SUV, one which seems to have some parallels with the Ssangyong Korando C (left).
   They say that MG should have made sports cars as part of its revival, and that the brand should not adorn a bunch of Chinese-made saloons and an upcoming SUV.
   Let’s look at a few hard facts.
   MG did make a sports car when NAC, and later SAIC, took over. It was the British TF design. And they sold fewer than 100 cars per year in the 2007–11 period, despite it being the cheapest roadster on the market in China. It wasn’t just Chinese buyers who ignored them: the TF was the first model revived at Longbridge, with very keen pricing, and hardly any Britons touched them, either.
   So if you were a business and you were confronted with decent sales of your saloon cars and dismal sales of your sports car (after building a whole new factory for them), where do you place your efforts?
   You give the people what they want.
   What’s surprising is that this is hardly unprecedented in MG history. There have been MG saloons for a good part of its existence, but right now, there are parallels with the 1980s. Then, the MGB had died in 1980, and Austin Rover decided it would launch a range of sporting saloons based on the humble Metro, Maestro and Montego. That’s no different to today’s MG range of the 3, 5 and 6—there’s even a 7, based on the old MG ZT.
   And globally, but more importantly, in MG’s domestic and key export markets, SUVs are selling strongly.
   Again: you give the people what they want.
   I was one of the very few people who wrote that I believed the Porsche Cayenne would be a huge hit at the turn of the century, and that the Porsche brand could survive such an extension. I was right.
   MG’s brand can easily be extended, given that it has had a less focused history than Porsche. At two points during its British ownership, it sold estates, for goodness’ sake—once in New Zealand, with the Montego-based MG 2·0 SL, and toward the end of the Phoenix Four era, with the MG ZT-T.
   A good deal of estate buyers now eye up SUVs, and that is simply a trend that SAIC is following.
   A sports car may follow in time. There will be a fastback based on the Auris-like MG 5, and not a moment too soon. A “proper” sports car could come if the rest of the range does well. SAIC isn’t run by mugs, and they know the heritage of the MG brand.
   MG sister brand Roewe has been voted the best in service and customer satisfaction among car dealerships, beating even the foreign-branded competition in China, while the Roewe 350 topped its class for customer satisfaction, according to the China Quality Association. The MG 3 came second in its segment.
   We’re talking about the most competitive car market on earth, and the Chinese equivalent (as far as I can make out) of the J. D. Power survey.
   Those accolades are things that BMC, BL, Austin Rover, Rover Group and MG Rover could only dream about, especially through the 1970s.
   I’d rather people give SAIC the acclaim it deserves for giving MG a decent go where the British and the Germans had failed—and for putting money where its mouth is.

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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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Another MG Rover gaffe: turning down the Fiat Stilo platform

22.05.2011

Robin Capper referred this to me, found on Autocar’s blog and penned by Hilton Holloway. I’ve only taken excerpts:

[A senior MG Rover insider] claims MG Rover bosses were offered a life raft shortly after they bought MG Rover for a tenner. Realising that Rover’s L-series diesel engine was hopelessly outclassed, they approached Fiat about buying in its JTD diesel.
   Fiat, the insider claims, came back with an amazing offer. MGR could have the diesel, but it could also license the Fiat Stilo platform. Fiat had installed at least double the capacity that the slow-selling Stilo needed and had capacity to spare.
   The fact that the Phoenix Four didn’t return Fiat’s call suggests that they never really intended to turn MGR around by their own efforts.

   I thought I had heard all the MG Rover débâcle stories, but evidently not. As far as shockers go, this is a big one. The one model that should have been replaced was the Rover 45, long past its sell-by date. Maybe hindsight is 20-20, and maybe at the time, the Phoenix Four still thought the RDX60 was going to save the day. However, given the urgency of fielding something competent in the C sector and the consolidation in the industry, you’d think accepting Fiat’s offer would be the most logical thing to do. (It’s not unprecedented, either: when Peugeot took over Chrysler Europe, the C9 and Sunbeam replacement were hurriedly put on to Peugeot platforms, despite advanced work on both.)
   The comments on the Autocar website are very good, too. Free from the crass junk that passes for comments on many automotive sites.
   Naturally, Keith Adams and AROnline beat us all in revealing this, ages ago.

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