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Monday, 24 March 2014

Sometimes The Customer Is Wrong... And An Idiot

A BMW-backed styling and marketing exercise, and a Mini.
Someone recently questioned people's criticism of the new MINI Countryman and used model bloat (each replacement being bigger than its predecessor) as an excuse. My response? Well, model bloat is one thing, but the thing about the Countryman is that it's the same as having a Golf that's the same size as a Passat. The Golf Plus (Renault Scenic rival) was not a successful car.

Besides, it's basic logic to think that huge Minis are weird and sort of wrong (or very wrong if it's also called - blegh - Paceman). Small is what the word "Mini" means. It would be like Maserati selling a two-door car called Quattroporte! The Fiat 500L is equally wrong, because again, everyone knows what a Fiat 500 is, what it's meant to be, and that it is meant to be a very small city car. That's the very basis of the brand (again, like MINI). But because some people are fat and greedy, they have to dilute the brand and sell the car purely on the badge and garish styling that apes the car you actually like.

Brand dilution is how our era is being defined, and I hate it. I really hate it a lot.

Land Rover (and I know this because their design manager told us in person when briefing us for our live design project with them) aren't interested in making rugged-looking, mud-plugging off-roaders like the Defender any more. They want a softer-looking, premium brand for their customers, who are now far more Harrods than Himalayas. They basically want every product of theirs to be a Range Rover and are even considering re-branding as just Range Rover. Yes, they'll still have to be off-road capable - they're not that shameless like BMW are - but they can't look like utility vehicles. They must be more like lifted luxury wagons. Imagine a British Audi but with Q-models only and their own graphics. We basically have to give the Jaguar C-X17 a floating roof and different headlights. They've tried killing off the Defender multiple times, but the hardcore cult following refuses while also asking for more creature comforts in it.

And that's just one brand! Look out the window and you'll see SUVs/Crossovers from sports car companies, front-wheel-drive BMWs (actually badged as such now, rather than just being the reason they're pissing on a prestigious other brand) and the Aston Martin Cygnet, although that symbol of so many wrongs is happily no longer with us. In 20 years time they'll all make everything, and you'll only choose based on styling and/or who has the most interesting back catalogue.

This industry is fucking crazy, man. And you know what? Sometimes the customer is wrong. And an idiot. The vast majority of car buyers - i.e. the target market - has either chosen a brand to stick to until one of them dies or just has a generic list of requirements that are met by probably 30 different new cars on sale today. They don't know what they want beyond those things, things which probably just include modern gadgets, styling they like, affordability and enough interior space. So why are car companies bending down to people who don't honestly know what they want? TELL THEM what they want! Meet the generic What Car? requirements and then show them what makes sense and tell them what makes fucking no sense at all, like a massive MINI or a hatchback-based crossover that is literally just a sensible car with a bigger body on it that spoils every aspect of the rest of the car so that morons can pretend they're in something safer and cooler. Or an automatic BRZ. Or a front-wheel-drive Land Rover. Stick to your fucking values or you'll all just dissolve into one big soup bowl of synthetic everything-for-everyone genericars separated only by styling and what cool shit you were doing 20-60 years ago that has no bearing on the lumps filling your forecourts today.

This is the nightmare that's so easy to predict. I only hope that, as it sometimes can, the car industry will surprise us all and maintain individuality in the face of desperation and brand depreciation.

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