Musings of an Aussie design strategist gone North

Things I hate: Proof positive that Cash For Clunkers is utter lunacy

Need I say more?


Filed under: Car, Car Culture, Eco, Sustainability, Things I Hate, , , , , ,

Brand Capital and How Not to Spend It

Picture 4

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 »

Filed under: Adventures in Brand Extension, Branding, Car, Car Culture, Design, Design Strategy, Eco, Premium, Sustainability, Things I Hate, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Coupe + SUV still = Fail


Did nobody tell Acura of the collective slack-jaw expression that met the BMW 5 GT in Geneva? Or of the decidedly muted market reception to the proportionally challenged, stupendously impractical X6?

I guess not: Acura wants to have this monstrosity in dealers before the year is out.

Somehow one of the automotive design sites managed to find something to recommend in the ZDX’s lazy BMW pastiche but I’m not buying it.

From mind-blowingly awful “power plenum” grille (plenums this ugly should stay put under the hood) to the hideous confluence of surfaces at the rear via the comically small rear door (look at the opening in the interior shot below), this car makes the vulgar X6 look like the stylistic patron saint of pointless cross-overs.

As one designer friend put it, this car confirms Acura as the world’s premier publisher of 1st-year design student projects.

The lack of subtlety and detailing in the age of the new Volkswagen Polo, with it’s delightfully co-ordinated grille mesh and headlamp bulb caps, speaks volumes about how seriously Acura takes producing a premium product.

Filed under: Car, Concept, Design, Motor Shows, New York, Things I Hate, , , , ,

Is it about China?


I’ve spent most of the day thinking about my earlier post on the BMW 5 GT concept that broke cover overnight.

It’s occurred to me that, somewhat foolishly, I’ve been looking at the market positioning from an extremely Euro-centric position.

What if BMW is taking a similar tack that they took, perhaps inadvertently, with the previous generation 7 series?

A car that initially tanked in Europe on the basis of it’s looks , the old 7 went gangbusters in the Chinese market. It also signalled a shift in BMW’s understanding of it’s future market. This shift was confirmed by the launch of the Concept CS as the Shanghai motor show (as opposed to a show in their traditional European heartland) and the somewhat lesser known introduction of a LWB (long wheel base) 5 Series sedan exclusively for the Chinese market.

In 2006 I completed my Masters thesis in automotive design and although the main thrust of my research was something else, I spent a good deal of my time coming to understand Chinese taste in the premium car market. One of the characteristics of the emerging haute-bourgoisie is the desire to be driven (having seen traffic in Hong Kong, I can understand why). And with the desire to be driven, less focus is placed on BMWs old maxim of the “Ultimate Driving Machine” and instead we start looking at the Ultimate Driven Machine.

And in this respect, as the new press images from BMW show, the GT will indeed be ultimate in the traffic choked streets of Asia’s cities. Masses of rear leg-room and stupendous head room within a package that won’t be unwieldy in traffic (unlike a LWB 7 series). Indeed, looking at the pictures, I imagine you probably would have to go to that size vehicle to get similar rear-cabin room.

 The vehicle I designed back in ’06 aimed to recreate a limousine experience within 5 meters, reclining seats and all. The 5 GT is 4998mm long and provides the same rear cabin experience as a LWB 7 which is a full 212mm longer. Maybe I was on to something…

My doubts about the car’s success in the European market still stands, but if China is indeed the target, who cares about fighting the same old scrappy battle the German premiums always fight. BMW just jumped out of the ring and found a new playground.

Filed under: Branding, Car, Design, Design Strategy, Premium, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

It’s not a sedan, it’s not an SUV, it’s not an estate…it’s a hatchback!


It’s out! BMW’s new Progressive Activity Sedan (also known as the 5 Series GT or Gran Turismo) was revealed in a private view last night and the folks over at BMWBlog got the scoop. You might remember this as the car, the launch video of which I lampooned last week for spending three minutes saying the car wasn’t an MPV. And it’s not. It’s something almost as poisonous to the premium buyer: a hatchback.

 To be honest, its mix of Concpet CS, new 7 Series and and an immensely long wheelbase don’t upset me as much as I thought it would. You could certainly never argue that the thing lacks presence and the double opening hatch is an interesting if unoriginal idea. It did strike me that the angle of access, combined with the intrusion of the open lid, makes me think it will be a little awkward to use. At this point it seems that the similar system found on Skoda’s Superb is better resolved and more useful.

And there in lies the problem, this car counts only the Skoda Superb as a typological brother, hardly the company you want to keep if you’re BMW. The PAS is trying to be a premium hatchback and the last “premium” hatch I can remember…oh, hang on, I can’t. “Aha!” you say, “therein lies the secret to BMW’s success! Nobody has done this before!” Well they have.

Opel/Vauxhall used to produce the Signum, a similarly long-wheelbased hatch which was also designed to offer the difference between “economy and first class” (although in their case it was probably the difference between Air Congo and premium economy) and Skoda produces the aforementioned Superb (which is, actually, pretty superb for the money). However, neither of these cars will ever compete with the likes of E-Classes, A6s and A7s and their brands make sure of that. BMW is going in to battle in one of the most conservative market sectors out there and I’m not convinced people will be seduced out of their premium SUVs, sedans and wagons by an expensive rep-mobile.

Just picture this thing on the school run, driven by a yummy mummy who’s propped it on the kerb outside the prep school…

I’m not saying that a product type can’t turn premium overnight. The original Range Rover did it. But it was a able to do so because Land Rover and the types of vehicle they produced had always been associated with a certain class in English society, creating a strong aspirational pull. BMW might have the upper middle class pulling power, but hatchbacks have never been associated with aristocracy or celebrity, only with Ron the sales manager pounding the M25…

Head on over to BMWBlog to see more pics.

[Image and Source: BMWBlog]

Filed under: Branding, Car, Design, Design Strategy, Premium, Uncategorized, , , , , ,

Bangle butts out


Chris Bangle, the enigmatic designer who got people talking about car design again and put his name to some of the most challenging surfaces and proportions this side of a collision between the Bilbao Gugenheim and the Titanic, has left BMW to  “to pursue his own design-related endeavors beyond the auto industry”.

Although many will applaud his departure I can’t help admire a man who shook up a stuffy old brand like BMW and could hold forth so passionately on so many topics. Hearing him give press interviews in Paris last year was a treat. I’m looking forward to seeing what he puts his mind to next.

As an extra treat, here’s Chris giving a great lecture on cars as art at TED. Well worth a watch:

(Source: Automotive News,Image: © Andrew Philip Artois Smith 2008 )

Filed under: Car, Design, , ,

It’s not a sedan, it’s not an SUV, it’s not an estate…it’s a damn MPV

And the sooner BMW comes clean about this, the better for all concerned!

This video is 3 minutes and 38 seconds of pure marketing hell, cheesy voiceover and all, because the folks from Munich can’t bring themselves to call their Progressive Activity Sedan an MPV.

There is even a point at 1:28 where Mr. Cheesevoice says “…hmmm, so I’m immediately reminded of…” and I said out loud “an MPV” but our friend goes on to say “…exactly, the difference between economy and first class”! I wanted to scream! Just repeat after me assorted Bangles and Hooydonks: “MPV, it’s as easy as 1-2-3!” Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Advertising, Car, Design, , , ,

About DownsideUpDesign

I'm Drew Smith and I'm a freelance design strategist and journalist for the automotive industry. DownsideUpDesign is a place for me to collect stuff that I like, often love and sometimes hate for safe keeping. Get in touch at downsideupdesigner (at) me (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.