Automotive: June 2009 Archives

Today's Wall Street Journal reminds me of the fact that sometimes two big names can be a mixed blessing.

saturn_logo.gifHere I am thinking of the Saturn and Penske combination that has been created by celebrity driver and businessman Roger Penske's Penske Automotive Group with its purchase of GM's Saturn brand name.

An upsurge in interest in Saturn cars by Penske fans has been initially seen as a result of the deal, but GM is currently asking the (very relieved) Saturn dealers not to trumpet the name too loudly lest it dilute the beleaguered Saturn brand. GM still has a major interest here, as they will still make the Aura, VUE, and Outlook for the next 2 years, but will discontinue the Astra and Sky.

Penske, for his part, might outsource production to Renault Samsung Motors of Korea. In addition, Penske has also hinted that he might introduce an electric car under the Saturn name.

Penske has already agreed to keep the Saturn "look," stating that it has a certain "brand value," which most everyone understands to have a very loyal following.

The key, I believe, is to not only to keep the look, but to go back to the integrity of the meaning behind the brand itself.

For example, Penske shouldn't do to Saturn what GM did to Saab. saab-logo.gifEssentially, Saab was made more boring by GM making it much less exotic and Swedish.

Consider, on the other hand, Range Rover, which has changed hands a few times (for better or worse), but still has its own unique brand equity.

The simple question the people at Penske should ask is this: would they create a "Penske" mid-range sedan? If the answer is no, they need to compartmentalize the names as much as possible.

Frankly, Saturn itself is a brand in rehabilitation after GM did its best to mainstream it.

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The Ford Taurus is back after the new CEO Alan Mulally decided to resurrect the name after asking Ford executives in 2006 "How many billions of dollars does it cost to build brand loyalty around a name?"

This is exactly the question I would have liked to ask them!

Taurus-2010-F34.gifHe instructed his engineers to go ahead and "make the coolest vehicle that you can possibly make (and name it the Taurus)," and the result is now on the road.

The press likes it, as does pretty much anyone who sees it.

But the interesting thing to note is that the car is not the mid-range, erstwhile "flying potato" of the early 1990s. This is an upscale, full size luxury sedan priced between $27,000 and $38,000.

Autoblog calls it the "once and future king" and takes us down memory lane from the very first Taurus (1985) all the way to its demise in 2006. They also remind us that Ford briefly revived the Taurus name on the 500 in 2007, and that it went from "America's hope to America's rental lots."

Now, you will soon be able to get the Taurus SHO (Super High Output), which one Ford executive calls the "flagship sedan."

Although, to get one of these with all the bells and whistles, you're looking at an even higher price tag of $41,000.

The San Francisco Ford, Lincoln, Mercury blog says that "convincing consumers that the new Taurus is a Taurus is one thing; making them fork over 40 grand for one is another. Both are hurdles Ford will have to overcome to make the car a success in the market."

Applying the Taurus name to an upscale automobile is a big risk. The Taurus was the ultimate mid-range car - Detroit's answer to the Camry, not the Lexus.

Why would somebody want to pay luxury prices for a brand name that is indelibly associated with good value?

I don't know how this will play out for Ford, but for me, it will definitely be exciting to see the Taurus back on the road again.

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GM Shouldn't Change Its Company Name!

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GM has been the butt of many jokes lately, with some referring to it as Generous Motors, Government Motors, General Makeover, etc...

Conventional wisdom is that General Motors should change its name.

gmlogo.gifI disagree.

Chrysler is a company name and a car name. Ford is a company name and a car name. But GM is first and foremost a company name.

Chevy-Corvette-red.gifYes, there are the GMC trucks and vans, but in my opinion when a consumer goes to buy a Chevy or a Buick, they don't have the GM name in mind, but instead are shopping for a specific model. For instance, they are thinking of the iconic Corvette or Silverado or Traverse.

Who remembers what Nissan was called before it was Nissan? Remember Datsun?

Who remembers what the company BP was previously called? I bet not many. It was BPAmoco after the merger with Amoco, which by the way was formerly Standard Oil of Indiana.

Who remembers what South Korean LG was previously called? Who even remembers their first products to land on the U.S. shores - some cheap, low-end microwaves branded Lucky Goldstar.

We all have short memories, since we are bombarded with loads of new information on a daily basis:

  • The average adult sees 247 commercial messages a day.

  • There are over 45,000 items in a typical supermarket with more brands, sub-brands and line extensions being introduced every day.

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There is an interesting approach for GM to consider:

  • When BPAmoco was dropped for BP, the tagline "Beyond Petroleum" was added.

  • When Lucky Goldstar became LG, it adopted the "Life's Good" tagline.

Our memories are short, we are easily distracted and therefore I think GM should keep its name, but overtime, give it new meaning. A simple off the cuff example I gave in a recent AP interview was that GM could stand for Greater Mileage since they will be introducing smaller cars and electric powered vehicles.

I'm sure it would not be difficult to come up with some wonderful taglines that play off the GM acronym.

How about Good Motors? It leverages the well-known Mr. Goodwrench and has simplicity, honesty, authenticity and relevance going for it.

What positive ideas do you have for the GM acronym?

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The old debate over alphanumeric car names is back now that Chrysler has been swallowed by Fiat.

jaguar_silver_logo.gifBrendan Doyle of McClatchy Newspapers asks carmakers to "junk" the "gibberish seemingly plucked from secure passwords" and go back to good old fashioned naming. He blames European imports (like the soon to be released, super sexy Lexus LFA) for sowing confusion and notes that the magix letter for car naming is "X," because it denotes secret new technologies and is a plosive letter that resonates with consumers.

Nevertheless, Fiat is going to introduce its legendary "500" as simply that: the "500" with "no brand name attached."

But the vehicles that will keep Chrysler alive in the U.S. all have real names: Dodge Ram, Jeep Grand Cherokee, and Dodge Charger.

While more automotive brands opt for numbers, The New York Times is lamenting the death of the "Rabbit" brand name and looking back with nostalgia on the "powerful, totemic animal names that lent cars personality."

According to the The New York Times blog post, Coneheads.gifJaguar used to be the "Swallow Sidecar" and one famous poet suggested the Ford Edsel be called the "Utopian Turtletop." Saab also channels the animal spirit with a griffin on its crest while Porsche uses stags.

The funniest part of the blog is the mention of the Coneheads, where Dan Ackroyd refers to the Ford Lincoln Mercury Sable" as "a personal conveyance named after its inventor, an assassinated ruler, a character from Greco-Roman myth and a small furry mammal."

It just too tough to deny the instinct of wanting to hear a car engine roar.

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The new Amarok "ute" naming coming out of Volkswagon both intrigues and puzzles me.

Ute, by the way, is short for "utility vehicle."

VW_Ute_on_beach.gifThis particular vehicle is kind of a hybrid pick-up truck and is set to be sold everywhere in the world except the U.S.

However, VW has registered the trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, leading some to suspect that we may see the "ute" on streets close to home pretty soon.

The irony in the name is that Amarok means "wolf" in the Inuit language, and since the Inuit are Native Americans who hail from the upper 48, Alaska and Canada, they will not be able to drive one, because the Amarok will probably not be sold in these places, at least right away.

One VW CEO said, "This name fits to a tee the characteristics of our utility, which will set new standards in its class. We took great care selecting this name, which can be used globally. The Amarok is meant to invoke positive associations in all relevant international markets and make a more convincing argument than its established competitor's right from the start."

VW calls the division that makes these vehicles in Germany "Nutzfahrzeuge," meaning "use vehicles" and thus the "ute," or "utility," moniker that may or may not be useful to the product naming.

This moves the naming scheme for VW even further away from the Golfs, Sciroccos, and Corrados of years past and toward a much more esoteric naming nomenclature.

Their Toureg is named after a nomadic tribe in the Sahara (where you can't buy VWs, nomads generally walk anyway) and their Tiguan is an amalgamation of "Tiger and Lizard" that was put in place thanks in part to the enthusiasm of AutoBahn readers, but quickly was named one of the 10 worst car names ever by at least one blogger.

Nonetheless, VW had better be very careful about referring to their new vehicle as a "ute" if they do come to our shores, not least because another North American tribe, called the Ute Tribe, tend to be very protective of their name, as the University of Utah found out when they tried to name their sports team the "Running Utes."

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