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Drew Smith: ethnographer, strategist and host of Rising Minds

Petroleum-powered Peccadilloes for Plutocrats

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If austerity is all the rage, someone forgot to tell the manufacturers of city runabouts. Aston Martin’s much-maligned £35k Cygnet -based on the humble £10k Toyota iQ- is just starting to hit the streets. It’s also available in an even more exclusive Colette edition.

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The amusingly named Fiat Abarth 695 Tributo Ferrari has been terrorising residents of Belgravia since late last year at an unamusingly steep £30k.

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And the £11k Fiat 500 on which the Tributo is based is now available in a Gucci edition for a £5k premium.

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Even Citroen is in on the act with the Orla Kiely-fettled edition of their quasi-premium DS3.

It doesn’t stop there, however.

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Having the last laugh -as is so often the case in the Automotive world- are the Germans.

BMW Group brands Rolls Royce and Mini recently had a pash behind the bike shed and produced the Mini Inspired by Goodwood.

What do you get for your £25k premium over a standard £16k Mini? Leather, leather (everywhere), walnut veneers made at the Rolls Royce plant in Goodwood, “deep-shag” carpets and the smug satisfaction that, if you hadn’t worked it out already, you’re one of 1000 willing to pay £41,000 for a Mini.

Downsized luxury is everywhere these days; nary a day goes by when a report crosses my desk telling me that, despite the economic uncertainty, people are still enjoying luxuries, just in smaller portions. Now consumers can do it with their cars. Just don’t expect it to come cheap.

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Aston Martin and Long-term Investments


Aston Martin today released pics of its new DB9-based model, the Virage and, somewhat surprisingly (for me at least), there’s been a huge amount of negativity thrown at the car.

Why? Because it doesn’t look “new” enough.

So, let’s pause for a minute, take a look at a side-by side comparison of a the original 2004 DB9 and the 2011 Virage and make up our own minds. Then read on.

Read the rest of this entry »

Aston Martin’s Handbag

So the wraps have come off the production-ready Cygnet at the Geneva Motor show and I’m as mad as ever with this cynical little marketing exercise (my previous take on the car is here). For proof of how off-zeitgeist the little Toyota-in-ready-to-wear is, Steve Cropley over at Autocar reports that Aston chief Dave Richards says the car will

sell the way a £3000 Hermès handbag does to rich ladies.

The comment rings with the same misplaced smugness that Ulrich Bez projected when suggesting that the massive Lagonda SUV concept was ideal for HNW individuals in eastern and developing countries. This was , presumably, because it could crush the proletariat as it steamed from oil well to arms deal to the House of the Rising Sun.

In his short piece on Autocar’s ever-interesting Design Language blog, Cropley goes on to imply that those rich ladies mustn’t have a good understanding of the Toyota range if they’re going to shell out for the Cygnet.

I go on to say that, Toyota underpinnings or not, Ason Martin’s product messages get more off track with every motor show.

Read the rest of this entry »

Brand Capital and How Not to Spend It

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Over the last decade I’ve noticed an increasing number of brands willing to cash in on their previously unimpeachable images in the chase for bigger margins.

Sloppy strategies and even sloppier products have dealt manifold blows to companies like Mercedes-Benz (1st gen. A-Class, R-Class and Maybach), Porsche (Cayenne) and BMW (X6, X5 & 6Ms and 5 Series GT). For now, these brands can manage it. Decades of superb, focussed products have established strong brand perceptions that will take a few cheap hits (although I’d argue that Mercedes is really starting to try the patience of even the mainstream car nut with products like the new E-Class).

There are other brands, however, that can’t afford to play so loose and free with their brand capital and Aston Martin is a prime example. Read the rest of this entry »

About DownSideUp Design

I'm Drew Smith and I'm an ethnographer and strategist. By day I shape culture and strategy at Westpac. By night I sleep (mostly). And once a month, I help teams host an event called Rising Minds in London, New York, Toronto and Sydney.

DownsideUpDesign is a place for me to collect stuff that I like, often love and sometimes hate for safe keeping. All views represented here are mine and mine alone and do not represent those of anyone else.

Get in touch at drewpasmith (at) gmail (dot) com or tweet me (@drewpasmith) to rant, contribute or collaborate!

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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.