|A four-wheel-drive hatchback made by Ferrari, yesterday|
|Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, a man whose name is almost comically Italian.|
Perfect for Ferrari, then.
Meanwhile, the mainstays in the range, the mid-engined junior supercar and the big sports GT cars, have been kept pure while still pushing performance car technology forwards. Along with Lamborghini and Aston Martin, Ferrari are one of the last bastions of the naturally-aspirated V12 engine, while everyone else goes for smaller turbocharged engines and increasingly hybrid power. Only very recently have they had to give in under increasing pressure to the new ways of performance, and even then only on the newer additions to the range so far. The California is the least Ferrari-ish model and more of a cruiser, so it makes sense to finally give in to smaller turbo engines with that car, while LaFerrari uses its F1-style "HY-KERS" electric boost like an instant supercharger rather than any kind of eco gadget, with no EV-only mode, unlike the P1 and 918. The closest they ever got to sullying their name with an SUV or any kind of "Family Ferrari" was the sometimes-four-wheel-drive Ferrari Four, which ultimately is still a V12 shooting brake with four seats, not some daft over-engined crossover like a Cayenne Turbo S or X6-M. At a time when brand values are slipping across the world, Ferrari have stuck to theirs and made it work for them. Granted, they can sometimes have a snotty and pretentious attitude that puts many off (some might joke that they're just being very Italian), but underneath it, their traditionalist stance is an admirable one. Or at least, it has been...
|Maserati Kubang Concept, previewing the 2015 Levante sports crossover|
Mind you, he doesn't seem to care about Lancia, or more accurately Chryslancia, who have a range made entirely of second-hand designs, and platforms with different noses and/or badges attached. The Ypsilon is a 5-door 500. The Thema and Voyager are 99% Chrysler. The once-majestic Delta is now just an uglier Fiat Bravo. Meanwhile, Alfa Romeo must have gone through about five or six "comeback plans" in the last few years, and the only thing to come out of it is the 4C sports car, which admittedly is the best part anyway. As Mazda unveils their new MX-5 (blog post inbound), where is Alfa's version? We haven't even had a teaser for the new Spider we were promised. And how many more times will they delay the Giulia, Italy's answer to the BMW 3-Series? All we have are two bug-eyed hatchbacks - the smaller of which is a re-dressed Fiat Grande Punto - and a low-volume, low-profit sports car. Meanwhile, Maserati (who builds the Alfa 4C) may well have had a sales boost by the China-friendly Quattrporte VI and the new Ghibli with its Europe-friendly optional diesel engine, but they remain a minor player. Remember, the man that oversaw all these brands becoming a bit of a shambles is now about to run Ferrari, one of few car brands left with an almost-heavenly aura about it (but one which Montezemolo has come out criticising as "becoming too American" upon leaving it behind). If we see Ferraris built on second-hand platforms and on sale lower down in the automotive food chain, that aura will surely fade before too long......
The Argument FOR Brand Dilution
|On the right, a Mini. On the left a, er... Mini???|
And yes, they are parked directly facing each other. There is no perspective trickery going on here...
So once they had diluted the Mini brand from "iconic, fun, affordable, classless people's car for the masses" to "trendy, fun and premium," they decided to expand the brand outwards from there. This lead to variants of the hatchback of course - the usual estate and convertible - but from then on it all seemed to go to their heads a bit and things have gone a bit weird and inexplicable. There was a two-seat Roadster that looked like a cubed Audi TT, a hideous two-seat hatchback "Coupé" that looked like the standard car's roof had melted and they'd just run with it, and that estate version (or "Clubman") was missing a door on one side and had two doors on the back. But the biggest point of controversy is the Countryman crossover, pictured above as it stares down at the real deal. This slab of motoring obesity is an affront to the very definition of the word 'Mini,' let alone the brand's original 20th century values. But, nevertheless, it's a MINI with more space, making it salable to a wider range of people, meaning that if you wanted a MINI but recently had a child or have to carry skis and dogs everywhere or don't want to look like you can only afford a small car*, you could now buy into the brand anyway. Sure enough, it's worked. You see them around just as often as the normal MINI Hatch. So then they made a sporty three-door version called the Paceman - a sort of poor man's Range Rover Evoque - and, er, actually I haven't seen one in the wild yet. Maybe (thankfully) that one didn't work...
*not that the new-age MINI was ever cheap. A top-shelf Cooper S will set you back £18,655 before you add the expensive options, after which you're looking at £25k easily. You could buy a bigger, faster Ford Focus ST for slightly less. Or a Golf GTI. Or a Fiesta ST Mountune and a new kitchen......
BMW didn't limit their mild lunacy to MINI, of course. The X6 was brought into the world in 2008/9 and somehow it still exists. How?! It's hideous and utterly pointless. But it's unlike any other SUV and engineered (as) properly (as possible) by BMW, so it still functions well enough as a car for the people who fell for it to not hate it. So now there's an updated version and a smaller "X4" that's even more infuriatingly oxymoronic, for people dumb enough to want an X6 who don't have enough money...
Whatever. My point is that diluting a brand makes it easier to expand, thus increasing profitability. And ultimately, car companies have to listen to what their sales books are telling them, not what the internet is screaming at them. For every alert person they piss off, there are probably two or three inattentive people that get suckered into paying for one of their new products. The same is true at Apple where they often introduce features that already exist, but with a different name so average people who didn't know it existed think it's new and revolutionary. I once overheard someone arguing in a Café who was adamant that an iPad isn't a tablet, but an invention all of its own. What, because it has different software and a catchy name? Dear oh dear...
|Porsche's current range, excluding the limited-run 918 Spyder hypercar.|
Macan - Cayenne - 911 Carrera - Cayman - Boxster - Panamera
"Well what's the point then?! Why don't they just knock down their Zuffenhausen factory and concentrate on the five-door cars coming out of Leipzig instead?!" you blurt out in a huff. Not so fast, hothead. Sports cars cost a lot of money to develop, especially to the level of a Porsche. While previously the 911 and then the Boxster saved Porsche from certain death, it's now the turn of the shared-platform crossovers and long-awaited super-saloon to pay the bills, and they are doing. They really are doing. Hell, they're probably paying for the epic 918 hybrid hypercar, from gorgeous body to screaming engine to electric drive system. With the bread-and-butter cars pulling in the Euros, Porsche have more money with which to fund their evergreen 911 and much-adored mid-engined sportsters. The current Cayman S (981c) is hailed by every car magazine that goes near it as the best all-round sports car on sale and possibly ever. The new GT3 - spare me the pipe-smoking lecture about it not having a manual gearbox - is the most agile and frantically fast 911 ever, with such technologies as active rear-steer, like an old Honda Prelude. Ooh! Paid for by the Panamera? Perhaps. So, despite diluting the brand with SUVs and an executive sports saloon (well, it's technically a hatchback, but work with me here), and even adding diesel and hybrid versions of each, Porsche have been able to roll the resultant profits into a stunning new flagship model and continue to hone and improve the cars on which they made their name: the sports cars.
While the naysayers predicted doom for the 911 and Boxster, they're actually being kept alive and made better by that sacrilegious Cayenne and its Macan sibling. Those re-bodied and re-calibrated Volkswagens are a blessing in ungainly disguise, provided the sports cars continue living. If Ferrari pick their market segments right and don't do anything too offensive, maybe some higher-volume cars will fund the next "Special Series car" to replace LaFerrari, and maybe it will be even more incredibly fantastamazeballs. Maybe...
The Argument AGAINST Brand Dilution
|Fourteen attempts to make the same car... and that's not even all of them...|
Hyundai [a brand twinned with Kia]
Kia [a brand twinned with Hyundai]
But they aren't the only ones making crossovers - many of which only have the illusion of off-road ability or added safety or even four-wheel-drive - that are barely bigger than a Ford Focus Estate or Mondeo but use more fuel and look sillier. Into this mix you can also add:
Infiniti [Nissan's premium brand]
Mercedes-Benz [twice in left-hand-drive markets]
Nissan [twice under their own brand alone]
Range Rover (the Evoque kinda counts)
So if you're European and in the market for something small but tall, you have twenty six places to look. Except you don't, because FIAT are about to release a "500X" crossover, so that's actually twenty seven. And I'm probably missing one.
But it's not just the overwhelming choice that's on offer, it's the variety of brands that have hopped on the crossover bandwagon, even when it flies in the face of what they're meant to stand for. There are probably one or two you've never heard of, along with some you'd expect to be there, like Subaru and Land Rover. But then there are prestigious luxury brands like the Three Big Germans. What business do they have making cars like this?! And Mazda! Mazdas are supposed to be light and agile and fun! I've already mentioned the
As I mentioned up top, this is the era of mass automotive sacrilege. Everyone's just throwing their beliefs in the bin and building whatever sells, which ultimately appears to be leading us - very quickly - to a time in the mainstream car market when everyone makes everything. What's the point of that? Is it really better for car fans to live in a world where you can only tell brands apart from their lights and grilles, with no particular USP beyond badges and gimmicks? Won't people just pick one and stick with it regardless, or just buy from their nearest dealer in that situation? Are large conglomerates like VAG and FIAT-Chrysler and Nissan-Renault so desperate that they'll risk competing with themselves for profit? How can people stand out when they're all aiming at the same things? If everyone just copies each other, where's the creativity? Will BMW switch to V6 engines instead of the classically correct inline-six purely because it makes more fiscal sense? They've already unveiled a front-wheel-drive car to rival the Honda Jazz, of all things (seriously, search "BMW 2 Active Tourer" if you don't believe me). With no values, you have no point of interest, just a marketing campaign that stretches into the design studios. Car companies SHOULD stick to their corner. They NEED to have their own philosophies. FIAT really has to STOP building the hideous and brand-defying 500L. They MUST keep alive what gave them life in the first place, otherwise it will generate apathy among fans and enthusiasts. And that would be the worst. Eventually you'll choose which brand to like based on who has the coolest history, not who currently makes the coolest cars, because there'll be nothing much to choose between each range. The whole car market will be one huge, dreary, homogenised blur...
It'll be a bit like the start of that Toyota GT86 ad. Don't remember it? Here:
I just hope the above prediction gets proven wrong so that the major automotive industry stays at least a little bit exciting...
So Where's The Line?
|Porsche 911 Carrera RS 2.7 vs Porsche 911 Sport Classic (997)|
So, where would I take Ferrari?
Well, if the range of cars really did need to expand - which I would try to avoid in the first instance - then I would take the 4C, lengthen the rear end and leather up the interior, before adding a V6 engine. The single-turbo 3.0 V6 from the base-model Maserati Ghibli would do. Boost the 325bhp to 350bhp. The carbon chassis and plastic composite body of the 4C would keep it light, while the exterior would obviously be redesigned to look more like a Ferrari. The suspension would be redeveloped, probably the most expensive bit. Brakes from the 458 would probably work fine. The weight would likely rise from the 4C's 895kg as a result, but still, at 950kg or even 1000kg, that engine is going to be plenty punchy enough, with room for a hotter model later. Tie all these parts together properly and have I just made? The Ferrari Dino 306T. Ferrari's answer to the Porsche Cayman GTS, or maybe McLaren's upcoming "500S" junior car. How cool would that be?! It could also be spun off into a new Lancia Stratos, because platform sharing needn't be tedious. A manual gearbox could be offered initially, but only if the demand is there will it stay, because we have to be real here...
The FF would be replaced with something similar, because ballistic shooting brakes are cool as hell and you know it. I'd keep the V12 alive for as long as possible, and the FF's added all-weather traction ought to stay, to differentiate it enough from the two-seat two-wheel-drive F12, and also to have something close enough to an SUV/crossover without going all the way. That's Maserati's job, along with the sports saloons. Let them have their space (the Ghibli could underpin a bigger version of the Alfa Romeo Giulia, to take on the 5-Series/A6/E-Class).
Ferrari has been quite traditionalist about aluminium up until this point, but it's time to bring out the old "F1-style" mantra and have more carbon fibre chassis (especially with one of the "lesser" brands already doing it). The 458 replacement - or maybe the one after - would have a carbon tub and maybe carbon lids and doors, and the big GTs would follow suit. Lightness is rightness. It improves everything from track performance to fuel economy. Embrace the black magic of carbon fibre. No matter what happened, Ferrari would always make a mid-engined supercar and a big sports GT. Together they are their equivalent of Porsche's 911 in terms of importance to the brand. If something more conventional had to bankroll them -and if for some reason it couldn't be done via Maserati or Lancia, then so be it. It works for Porsche.
Basically, I would try to embrace everything that's good about Ferrari and find the right ways to keep those things alive, even if it meant spreading the costs across the other brands and letting them in on it. I would leave Chrysler out of Ferrari completely, and anyone that wouldn't is wrong and bad. Finally, production would still be capped, albeit at a slightly higher number if necessary, because there is one thing - above all others - that Ferrari should always be, regardless of brand expansion or anything else: Special.
Let's see what Marchionne will do...