Engineers have pored over every detail, literally spending YEARS developing it, squeezed every penny out to make it more profitable for the company and more affordable to the customer, quality improvements and performance improvements have been made everywhere and…
You buy the brand you have always bought, your parents bought, or which anecdotally “you can’t go wrong with”. Why?
The power of brand
Brand is a much more powerful psychological driver than many will give credit. Brand can give a company regional dominance, the power of pricing, and can often overcome what could be a hammer blow to a company’s reputation.
If I were to ask what you thought the most popular brands in a country were in Europe, you could probably answer quite accurately.
Germany? VW, BMW, Mercedes, Audi
UK? Ford, Vauxhall
France? Peugeot, Citroen, Renault
USA? Ford, Chevrolet, Toyota, Honda (the Japanese presence is very real)
In these countries poor quality can quickly be overlooked from their favourite brands. In many cases, other brands wouldn’t even enter the thought process when buying a car.
The USA is a good example that, while there is an element of domestic bias towards home brands, it is hard to turn down a great deal. In fact, in Europe, some domestic brands are not successful due to their heritage, but rather that they are most in tune with delivering to satisfy the domestic customer.
The cost of luxury
Everyone knows that Audi is part of VW, as are Skoda and Seat. If you take any segment, you will see 4 vehicles on a scale of price:
You can even get them in the same colour! Well, I had to get a picture of a VW Golf GTI, but it looks just like the normal Golf…
But how different are they? If you take the same engine and transmission, and similar content, why wouldn’t everyone choose the Seat over the Audi? BRAND.
Blinded by the badge
Toyota’s Prius recall in 2010 for unintended acceleration has resulted in a whopping 1 YEAR dip in sales.
Sales may have dipped, but the affordable, reliable offerings from Toyota continue to keep the Japanese brand near the top of the rankings of largest global automaker (currently overtaken by the multi-brand behemoths of Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi and VAG), prior to a dip with the SUV popularity boom and more widely available hybrid offerings.
VW’s “Dieselgate” caused the financials of the parent VAG dip, but they are on the road to recovery, while never losing out in their strongest segments. They are on the rise, and with recent announcements around their fully electrified MEB platform, are now seen as one of the industry leaders in clean vehicle technologies.
Land Rover is an example in a different way. As a status symbol, Range Rovers, in particular, became a very popular vehicle everywhere. But its vehicle quality has been poor before, during and since their peak (which, to be fair, has been until about 9-12 months ago).
In numerous surveys, their quality and dependability has been near or at the worst level in the industry, but does anyone seem to care? No. It’s not about the realities of vehicle ownership, it is about the image you give when you are seen driving in it.
Overcoming the stereotype
As an engineer, the question then becomes, what would it take to challenge a customer’s loyalty? Will smoother or sportier ride and handling shift the needle? How about factory-fitted option as standard? A stylish exterior?
The answer is often simple – how does it look, and what does it cost?
So now we see the market shift to SUVs. Are they safer? Not necessarily. Cheaper to run? Not really. Do they look better? You’ll have to decide, but on balance it seems like the answer is yes.
So, is engineering a lost cause in the face of brand and style? Have your say, leave a comment below!