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Drew Smith: ethnographer, strategist and host of Rising Minds

Same sausage, different length

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There was a time when BMW was accused of reproducing the same design theme while only varying the length, thus giving rise to the phrase used in the title. Don’t get me wrong, having owned an E36 3 series coupe and allowing myself unsavoury thoughts about the E38 7 series and an E34 M5 (which were the groß-wurst and uber mittel-wurst to my 3 series würstchen), the Ercole Spada/Claus Luthe BMWs were beautifully resolved vehicles that I still look longingly at. The strong visual link between the cars was always part of the appeal.

Chris Bangle changed that, with the 3, 5 and 7 all adopting distinct design themes. The concept of a highly unified family look seemed to have disappeared with the other proponent of the sausage concept, Mercedes, also pursuing inconsistent design themes across it’s ever-expanding range.

BMW stablemate, Rolls Royce, has done us proud however and fans of  strictly evolutionary design can rejoice. The image you see above is not of the gargantuan Phantom but of the slightly less enormous 200EX concept that’s to be revealed in Geneva. Looking at the rear 3/4 view, even I had to do a double take. Perhaps, once appreciated in real life, the relative scales of the cars will be a signifier but as far as the photos are concerned, the 200EX is the Lincolnshire Chippolata to the Phantom’s whopping Cumberland.  

We know that people associate a strong family identity with feelings of longevity, stability and depth of experience (both of those producing the vehicle, and the experience one has with the vehicle), all qualities that are highly valued in the premium market. From a strategic design perspective, Ian Cameron and his team have made a safe bet that, market conditions notwithstanding, will attract customers by enabling them to attain the Rolls mystique in a Phantom-lite package. Those A8600 iLs are starting to look even more boring…

(Images courtesy of Rolls Royce Motor Cars Ltd)

Category: Car, Design, Design Strategy, Premium

Tagged: , , , , ,

2 Responses

  1. Michael says:

    How do you think that brands like Rolls Royce can continue the highly unified design themes while still feeling fresh alongside the BMWs and Mercedes of the world?

    As a designer, I personally prefer this type of approach, but admittedly consumers may not agree. Does it still make sense in today’s market?

  2. drewpasmith says:

    Because they compete in a different market segment and appeal to a very different customer.

    Take a look at the Rolls-Royces and Bentleys (Proper ones, not the footballer specials) of the last…gosh, even 30-40 years, and they have been unbelievably conservative in their evolution. They don’t have to feel fresh because fresh is not part of their DNA.

    The luxury arena is not a market segment that responds well to rapid, frequent changes in fashion. God knows I wouldn’t if I’d just laid out £312,000 on a Rolls Phantom Drop-head.

    My take on it is that these cars are considered long term investments by the traditional core of buyers and to have your investment outdated on a 5-8 year model cycle is not the done thing!

    It’s this ability to sit above the normal premium market forces that explains the relative successes of the Phantoms and the Bentley Arnage/Brooklands/Azure compared to Maybach.

    When Mercedes styled the ‘bach along the lines of an inflated S-Class from the same era they immediately tied it to a design theme that was going to be outdated when a new S-Class came along. The car is already looking terribly dated and it’s not an easy design to evolve as there’s no real distinction to it.

    Does this evolutionary approach make sense in today’s market? More so than ever in my eyes. It helps reaffirm Rolls Royce’s image as builders of the automotive equivalent of the Rock of Ages, weathering the storms (economic or otherwise) and sheltering their owners from the worst of the world. Security and consistency are the two words that come to mind.

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© Andrew Philip Artois Smith and DownsideUpDesign, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrew/Drew Smith and DownsideUpDesign with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.