Drew Smith: ethnographer, strategist and host of Rising Minds

Honda’s missing the Frankfurt Show. Is that all it’s missing?


2009 will be remembered as the year that car manufacturers started to really reconsider their involvement in international motor shows. Although the effects of mass pull-out won’t become truly evident until Tokyo, where Audi, BMW, Jaguar, Land Rover, Mercedes, Renault, Volkswagen and Volvo will be conspicuous only in their absence, in a case of what may seem to be a little bit of East/West tit-for-tat, Mitsubishi, Nissan/Infiniti and Honda have all decided to skip Frankfurt.

I’ve previously communicated my thoughts on the long-term relevance of motor shows as effective brand building exercises but it’s easy to forget that they can serve as a very useful research tool for the manufacturers. Put yourself in the mind of a designer and think of the thousands of eager car buyers pouring through the doors over the course of a week, clambering through, over and under your newest work… these people are passionate, engaged and love to tell their stories about brands and products to anyone who’ll listen, especially if they feel that their voice may be heard (I know, I’ve been on the receiving end…).

So what better place to run some simple consumer insight exercises? If you keep your eyes peeled at a show, you’ll see it going on all around you as stand staff, discretely or otherwise, walk around gathering intel from prospective customers feeding it all back into the marketing/communications teams or sometimes, if the company is enlightened enough, into the design studio.

Honda is on a bit of a global product binge at the moment, churning out new vehicles at a fair clip. Some have struggled to find favour with almost anyone you talk to (Acura ZDX and the Accord Crosstour being two current examples) but others, like the JDM Odyssey (which is also for sale here in Australia) are proving to be solid Honda hits.

Since being home, I’ve been looking at the Odyssey and thinking (along with a few others) that although it’s resolutely Japanese in execution it could sit remarkably well on European roads. With SUVs falling out of favour and numerous, increasingly extreme typological hybrids coming to market to take their place, this most car-like of MPVs could well find a place in the European market’s heart.

Honda’s made great inroads into the European market over recent years with market-specific or market-modified products like the Civic and Accord and the fabulous Jazz finding favour with journos and buyers alike. The success of these cars demonstrates that Honda takes Europe seriously but missing Frankfurt seems like a missed opportunity to reaffirm their commitment to the market and explore the opportunities for another major hit.

Category: Car, Design, Design Strategy, Frankfurt, Honda, Motor Shows

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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.