Tag Archives: Geneva

Geneva brand digest #1: MINI – be coolest, not smallest

The Geneva motor show finished yesterday and, quite rightly, the cars were the stars. But in an industry where all manufacturers make high-quality products and brand is the vital differentiator, it’s worth looking behind the cars at the brand issues.

1403_MINI_Clubman_Concept-600x375MINI: Not only was BMW testing the limits of own Ultimate Driving Machine brand ethos by launching the first front-wheel drive car to wear the badge, and a small MPV at that, it also showed the largest MINI yet. Larger, ironically, than the original Mini’s British Leyland stablemate, the Austin Maxi.

New generations of models always grow larger. But at 4220mm the concept version of the Clubman shown in Geneva is a huge 260mm longer than the current car, which it will replace in 2015. To give some context, a Golf is 4199mm and a rather roomy Ford B-Max just 4077mm. And the outgoing Nissan Qashqai was barely longer at 4330mm.

BMW’s MINI has been a huge success. You can’t argue with the sales figures, or the success of the new Clubman from a design point of view for that matter. It’s lovely. But the growth spurt has prompted the company to spout a flawed new public rationale: that what’s important is for MINI models always to be the smallest cars in the segments they compete in.

That’s rather contrived and a dangerously fragile brand claim: segments are changing, new ones are emerging, and MINI will simply nominated whichever suits it best – hence the much-quoted target for the Clubman of the fully-formed, and fully priced, Golf Estate. But MINI is a lifestyle brand defined by emotional values, not parameters and categorisations decided by market research companies, data providers and industry analysts.

In addition, another manufacturer can simply produce a model which mimics the MINI, but is slightly smaller – and yet beat it for interior space because MINI packaging will always be compromised by the need to communicate the brand in an instantly recognisable way through external design language.

Far better than being smallest to say that MINIs must always be coolest – more design-led, more fun and more loved than their competitors. That’s an easy thing to achieve, and an impossible thing to measure. Subjective, emotional, I-want-one values. Ideal for a lifestyle brand.

Recovery gets real at the Geneva motor show

genevaWith the glitter of last week’s Geneva show’s press day reveals having been swept away and the dry ice cleared, now’s a good time to reflect on the what it meant for the business.

The Geneva show always provides an annual shot in the arm for the motor industry. It’s at the start of spring, in a bubble of snow-capped mountains and clean air, with the God Particle leaving nearby. Switzerland has no OEMs so it’s neutral – no Frankfurt or Paris-style shows of national strength. And it allows the niche producers to sit among the big players in the main halls, so exotica and design are as prominent as commoditised volume cars. It’s a good place to be, even in a post-recession landscape.

But, ironically in a market showing the first signs of sustainable recovery, this year the event came with an unusually large dose of reality. It’s as though the industry doesn’t want to push its luck, to be distracted from a hard focus on that recovery. Which is hardly surprising: in spite of five consecutive months of growth in Europe, sales are still a very long way off pre-recession levels – three million units in fact. Almost all of the OEMs are losing money in Europe, and incoming PSA CEO Carlos Tavares was quoted in Geneva saying that making money hasn’t been part of its culture, and neither was it at his previous employer, Renault.

So it was appropriate that many of the key press day launches were focused on the more fertile market opportunities. But that paradoxically comes with some challenges – for both bottom lines and brands.

Renault_TwingoThe rash of new city cars from Toyota, Peugeot, Citroen and Renault will deliver volumes. They’re cars for our time – cheap, urban cars with an injection of fashion, fun and flair. But small cars and small price tags also offer small margins, especially when they have the quality demanded by downsizers and the Apple generation. The development cost-sharing for the Toyota Aygo, Peugeot 108 and Citroen C1 will have helped, as will the Renault’s Twingo’s joint development with Daimler’s next-generation Smart. But these are not the cars those companies really want to be shifting. They’re cars for the marketers, not the FDs, better for long-term customer acquisition and upselling than short-term profits.

BMW_2_Series_Active_Tourer_at_the_2014_Geneva_Motor_Show_BMW_52185BMW’s 2-Series Active Tourer has properly given its brand and marketing people something to think about. It’s two things a BMW has never been before: front-wheel drive and a family MPV – in effect, an aspirational Kia Carens. Mercedes-Benz has trodden the MPV path already with the A-Class, and has reverted from a clever, one-box design to a conventional hatchback. The B-Class has retained the one-box shape, but Mercedes makes vans; BMW makes the Ultimate Driving Machine.

However, BMW’s strategy is conservative compared with what led to the Geneva debut of the Porsche Macan compact SUV. Barely a decade ago, ‘Porsche’ and an ‘SUV’ didn’t belong in the same garage, let alone the same sentence. Now, thanks to the Cayenne, they’re synonymous, and over half of Porches are front-engined and four-wheel drive. The SUV may have saved Porsche but the company made the SUV a global phenomenon.

I’m not sure BMW will be hoping that it does the same for the front-wheel drive people carrier. It’s brand people may have to be as clever as its engineers over the coming years.