Drew Smith: ethnographer, strategist and host of Rising Minds

Where fashion goes, cars may follow


Just read this really interesting extract from an interview with Simon Collins, the Dean of Fashion at Parsons where he talks about the impact of the recession on fashion.

Am I alone in thinking that what he says could be easily be translated into rationalising some of the largesse of the car industry?

“The biggest challenge was the biggest opportunity with designers eschewing big runway shows into a static exhibition. This in tandem with an internet presence is a more modern way of working and I think we’ll see much more of it.

A lot of the rubbish will be swept away. We are going to focus on brands with real integrity. There was a much more intelligence to the merchandising of the lines. There was the same level of creativity but less window dressing and more focus on salable items.”

His comments regarding shows is particularly pertinent given the impending Salon de Geneve. Yes, I will be there (hopefully) enjoying my three course lunch with champagne at Audi, I’ll admit. But what if car makers moved away from the massive cost of running their motor show stands and introduced new product like Apple will, who has decided to not continue with their traditional MacWorld keynotes?

Apple has been investing in the creation of temples to their brand where they now intend to host simultaneous global launches of new products. What if a car brand did the same? What if they managed to build the brand, supported by great experience centres (not dealers, you shouldn’t feel like you have to buy anything) so that people actually want to come in just to soak up the good vibes, like they do in an Apple store? Of course these would need to be located in prime retail centres, not relegated to the outskirts as traditional dealers tend to be. I’m imagining an environment where it’s ok to window shop, to soak up the brand and see if it fits you.

Having worked in Apple Australia’s retail network, I speak from experience when I say that if you make the products and the brand experience good enough (not just the store, the staff are vital to the experience), you don’t have to sell. It was just a question of how much you could up-sell.

Volvo trialled something similar about a decade ago in Sydney with the Volvo Gallery. It was a multi-function space that served as art gallery, cafe, cultural centre and sales outlet. It had a city-centre location and oozed Volvo brand values. Sadly, it eventually suffered from a lack of clear direction from Volvo Australia and a lack of understanding on behalf of the Sydney audience. There was also MG Garage (I know, I know: Morris Garage Garage) which combined one of Sydney’s most highly regarded restaurants with an MG/Rover experience. I don’t need to tell you what killed that off…

Granted, I’m ignoring the fact that it’s more efficient to have globally dispersed journalists coming to one place to experience many new products at once. However, for the people who are actually buying the cars, the Geneva show will only reach those living within a couple of hours drive at most.

His second point, I feel is equally applicable. Imagine if BMW had spent the money from developing the X6, chasing a comparative handful of sales, on furthering their EfficientDynamics program?

Anyway enough from me. What do you, dear readers, think? Do you love the experience of motor shows, or would you rather experience new cars as part of a more holistic brand experience? Will we see a broad rationalisation of product lines or will niche splitting continue apace?

[Found via PSFK Image: Wiki Commons]

Category: Adventures in Brand Extension, Branding, Car, Design Strategy, Motor Shows, Uncategorized

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  1. Joe Simpson says:

    I couldn’t agree more. If you look at what happened – and is happening – with the London, LA, Detroit and now Tokyo auto shows, it’s clear manufacturers are obviously questioning the cost and value of attending. The question is what to do instead. Many are focusing their attentions online. For instance, BMW now reportedly spends the majority of its ad budget online, rather than in print or on tv…

    But the problem ultimately, as you suggest, comes back to the buying and owning experience – car dealerships. At best, these tend to have a tepid relationship with the regional distributor, who themselves aren’t always particularly close to the OEM.

    Surely, dealerships and sales centres should be THE next point of major upheaval and change for the industry, because the buying experience simply doesn’t compare to the sophistication of the product, or the ability to personalise and glean information about vehicles that now exists online.

    Apeing Apple’s sales and Apple Store model, would seem to be the golden egg some are already hunting for, but hurdles appear tough to overcome. In the US, dealerships are protected under state law, which essentially has GM carrying brands it would (one hopes) have otherwise dropped years ago. When Mercedes tried to bring their UK dealership network in house, and focus it around 12-15 huge brand centres some years ago, there was a damaging backlash from the existing network – ultimately leading to the abandonment of the plan…

    Yet most consumers don’t like car dealerships, or the existing car sales process. When Daewoo launched in the mid-nineties, they focused on the buying and owning experience – which was completely different to that of other brands. With recycled, outdated, designs of vehicle, they actually gained a huge amount of traction (and sales). One wonders what they’d have achieved if the vehicles had actually been up to scratch… perhaps it’s time for certain manufacturers to re-examine that model?

    One things for sure; given the current economic and automotive industry climate, now’s arguably the best time for a complete rethink in how we buy – and the OEMs sell – cars.

  2. Ben says:

    How could I not agree with Joe?

    I recently read “The Machine that Changed the World” (amazon link: and there is quite a long section in there about how Toyota dealerships work(ed) in Japan in the late 80s and early 90s. Basically, the salesdudes would go, quite literally, door-to-door, following up on repeat customers, asking past customers if they were happy with their Toyotas, noting how/if people’s lives had changed and taking the opportunity to suggest that, eg, with a 3rd kid on the way, perhaps its time you traded your Corolla for an Avensis Verso.

    Also, dealers in Japan are apparently more closely related to, and possibly owned by, the OEM.

    Back to your questions, Andrew: I used to love the Brisbane motorshow, pissweak as it was. My dad and I would go a sit in weird things he would never be allowed to have as company cars. Recently a significant minority of OEMs have pulled out, leaving, basically, Holden, Ford and Toyota to carry the flag. Not really worth going now.

    As to the “brand experience”, I don’t think many OEMs now have a brand worth experiencing. Perhaps it’s rose coloured glasses but many of the Euro OEMs had stronger brands back in the 80s before they all decided to play in the “premium” end of pool.

    Oh! And it’s just occurred to me that maybe for people who aren’t into cars, perhaps no experience is their desired experience.

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