Thursday, February 23, 2006

Ford Accessorizer

All cars can be modified: Colors chosen and changed, parts bolted on or stripped out, etc. But most cars come from the factory looking just about like all of the others that came out before it, requiring the custom-minded customer to seek aftermarket help to put their own touch on their ride. Auto companies have met this demand with factory-supplied modifications that usually leave the car's existing warranty intact. Scion took this concept one step further by offering dealer-installed "aftermarket" parts, with optional time-of-purchase installation. On March 15, The Ford Motor Company will pull even with Scion, offering new car dealer-installed Genuine Ford Accessories.
Ford's plan revolves around an addition to their website, called the Accessorizer. This feature allows customers to install Genuine Ford Accessories to a new car online to instantly see the visual and financial results. Once the customer has finalized their creation, the site allows for the usual options of printing out the results or e-mailing them to a local dealer for a final price quote.
By making the customization process as easy as possible, Ford is hoping to snare potential customers for whom "stock" options just don't cut it.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Giving them away!

In a recent NASCAR promotion, Chevy is giving away a Tahoe. This is not a normal Tahoe: This is a Tahoe actually built by Tony Stewart himself. "Chevrolet is America's brand and there is nothing more American than building Chevy trucks in Texas,” said Stewart. “It was a lot of fun building the all-new Tahoe, but somebody is going to have a lot more fun driving it.” This is advertised on a special web site where you can win a bunch of different prizes, including this truck.
Another championship-caliber celebritiy giving away cars is Tiger Woods. On Buick's home page you can sign up to win one of several special editon Buick Lucernes:
The Lucerne CXS ... features a black exterior and cashmere leather interior, a standard 275 horsepower 4.6L Northstar V-8 engine, a wood steering wheel and shift knob, 18-inch chrome wheels with a 10-spoke design, heated washer fluid, heated and cooled seats, Magnetic Ride Control, six standard air bags, a unique exhaust tip, spoiler and more. Tiger is autographing a plaque for the vehicle's interior.
For every tournament that tiger wins someone is going to win his car. Not a bad deal for Tiger either, since he'll be getting a new car to lug his golf bag in. Maybe if you win you'll get some left-over grass that fell out of his cleats in the carpet.
Seems like some good marketing. The American public generally listens to winners regardless of how blatent the advertsing. Tony Stewert does actually use chevy products to win his races though.

Intrusive Advertising

Marketers of all products and services are in a constant battle with themselves and each other for the finite attention of consumers. There is an impossibly fine line between unnoticeably quiet and offensively loud, and there is a marked trend to err on the side of excessive volume.
The idea of sponsorship is a good one: Make known the products used by professionals, and the rest of us will follow suit. An example of this is the OZ Racing rims on all IRL and Champ cars. Sponsors paying for real estate on the cars themselves is certainly nothing new, and for the most part this practice is inoffensive.
However, on occasion things wander off of the acceptability path clear into the field of ridiculous. A well-documented example of this is a NASCAR driver's victory interview, where each of the 22 major sponsors is given credit for the win in an unintelligible mumble. Another example that came to my attention recently is in Champ Car, the full name of which is actually The Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered By Ford. Not to mention the inescapable grammatical error, this name is so long and cumbersome that it is frequently shortened, both in print and in the minds of the audience. The result of this is the disassociation of the brands Bridgestone and Ford, negating much of the marketing value of the sponsorship. The problem only gets worse when the name of a race is included, such as The Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered By Ford Toyota Grand Prix Of Long Beach season opener. This ridiculous name is commonly referred to simply as the Long Beach GP, taking all of the brand names right out, including that of the series.
Race sponsorship, such as the Toyota Grand Prix, can work if done tastefully. Even appending "Powered By Ford" to the end of the series name is clever. But the mess that results from Naming By Committee is something that both viewers and sponsors would be best off avoiding.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Overactive Adrenaline Disorder

Ford has just kicked off its latest advertising campaign with a series of mock educational materials surrounding Overactive Adrenaline Disorder. This condition, originally detected in Ford Racing drivers, occurs when an above-average need for adrenaline goes unfed.
The campaign is fairly extensive, including print and TV ads, and a website where users can perform a self-diagnosis to see if they are affected. The cure, of course, is the purchase of a new Ford Fusion, which is apparently an incredible source of adrenaline.
Obviously tied in to Ford's NASCAR campaign, the campaign would seem to make sense. However, while Karl Edwards may drive a formula car with "FUSION" stickers on it, the Fusion is by no means the best source of adrenaline within the Ford Motor Company(Shelby Mustang, anyone?). The end result is a good effort that produced an ad campaign that works well in a box, but makes little sense when brought out into the real world.

Friday, February 17, 2006

FreeStream T1

Evidently tiring of the lack of common ground between top-tier race cars and road cars, a team of British engineers are developing the FreeStream T1. Ben Scott-Geddes and Graham Halstead have moved on from their prior careers working on the McLaren F1 and McLaren/Mercedes SLR road cars to team up with legendary designer Gordon Murray in pursuit of a true road-going race car.
Bearing a striking resemblance to modern LeMans prototypes, the T1 appears to be very nearly an F1 car with fenders. Not content to merely deliver blistering speed, the T1 promises unmatched 3+g grip levels. Regardless of the unlikelihood of US legality, the mere production of the T1 should excite even the most jaded supercar enthusiasts.

FreeStream T1

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Lucerning Differences

So I know what your thinking: Why didn't GM axe Buick with Oldsmobile? I would say that Buick is the most underrated car company today. In terms of GM brands, Buick doesn't have any Supercars, Convertibles, or Muscle Cars to spice up the brand. Nobody refers to things as "The Buick of Blenders". You don't get your first job out of college and say "I'm going right to the Buick dealer to buy my first brand new car". However Buick, whether you want to believe it or not, is a top tier manufacturer in terms of quality. J.D. Powers puts Buick fourth on the list of quality of ownership after 90 days, just behind Lexus, Jaguar, and BMW. J.D. also listed Buick fourth behind Lexus, Porsche, and Lincoln for quality of ownership after 3 years. Yup, those facts are correct. The Lucerne's biggest competitor is the Toyota Avalon. Forget the myth of Japanese built cars being infallible and unstoppable (by even meteors!). In 2005 the Avalon was recalled because a number of them had un-welded steering mechanisms. Why don't you see that on the evening news? It seems like whenever a Ford gets a paint chip it's on the 8:00 news. The Lucerne is a car of a dying pedigree. As upscale luxury cars are trying to copy BMW and Mercedes with super stiff suspensions and performance features, the Buick still has a large trunk, a large interior, and a comfortable, luxurious ride. And unlike a lot of so-called luxury cars it comes with an available V8. I'm not sure how people get away with calling V6s luxury cars. Luxury isn't having to drop 2 gears on the highway to pass someone. Heck even Tiger Woods rolls around in a Buick. Tiger makes hundreds of millions a year; He could drop Buick and take sponsorship with Lexus if he wanted. Tiger likes a nice comfortable ride with a trunk big enough for 4 golf bags. He isn't fooling himself thinking he's driving an F1 car to the golf course and the grocery store. The Lucerne is an instant classic car, however, we will see if anyone buys them.

The answer to last week's trivia question is: 1992 was the last year in which GM cut its dividends.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Girls Can Drive Champ Cars, Too

Following several successful tests for Kevin Kalkhoven, Katherine Legge has been given a full-time ride at PKV Racing. She will be the fourth woman to drive a Champ Car, but more importantly she's one of several talented rookies moving up from the Atlantic series. Katherine had a successful road racing career in her home country of England, and should be very competitive in the 2006 Champ Car season.

Monday, February 13, 2006

What's In A Name, II

Lincoln recently announced that they are dropping the easy-to-pronounce and heritage-rich "Zephyr" name in favor of "MKZ."
The advantages of Lincoln avoiding alphanumeric names has been previously discussed, but this case is a mistake for additional reasons. Cadillac has shown us that replacing the name of an existing model with a series of letters can work if done properly, but Cadillac made the change to models that were years into their production. The resulting letter combinations were easy for prospective customers to relate to the old names. Lincoln released a bold, new car as the fresh face of Lincoln, and has drastically changed its name just over a year later. This will undoubtedly cause customer confusion which Lincoln may not be able to afford, furthered by the fact that the MKZ moniker brings the names of all three new Lincolns within one letter of each other.
If there is good news regarding the MKZ, it is that for 2007 it gets a new 3.5 liter V6, an AWD option, and other upgrades. Still, none of that will matter much if customers can't keep the names straight.
Lincoln MKZ

I'm glad someone agrees with me; Like Cassio Cortes of Racer magazine, for example. He brings up the good point that not only are there loads of alphanumeric cars already out there, but MKX, MKZ, and MKS are all very similar to a few competitors. At least enough that Honda is suing Ford because MKX is a little too similar to Acura's MDX for their liking.
This whole Lincoln naming fiasco has earned top What Were You Thinking marks in my book.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Vehicles of the Corn Part II

You have to visit the Cornulator.

Honda Element: Dull at Parties

Recently a new radio commercial for the Honda Element has been getting a lot of air time. The premise is that an Element and a platypus are conversing at a dinner party, "held by a mutual friend." This potentially-humorous idea is played out by two monotone voices which totally suck any life right out of the commercial. The spot is also seen on TV and is available on the web (click on "Platypus" in the bottom-right), so you can go check it out for yourself.
I'm sure the script seemed funny and left a few ad staffers laughing out-loud, but the voices chosen for the final cut make for a terribly boring conversation.
Ultimately, the message conveyed by the ad is arguably accurate, but less than flattering: the Honda Element is dull, awkward, and doesn't live up to the hype shoveled upon it by others.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Slashed and Divided

Answer to last weeks trivia: Corvettes have been built in Lancing, St. Louis, and Bowling Green(current production).

This week GM announced that it is dropping their dividend payout in half. This is good because it will save millions of dollars. However, this has caused some banks to advice their stockholders to sell the stock. Another cost cutting measure taken is that Wagner has cut his own salary in half and the executive's salaries across the board between 30 and 10%. Overall this will save the company approximately 500 million a year. Thats a far cry from the 8 billion in profit lost in 2005. However, its more of a PR stunt so that people dont say, "Maybe they wouldn't have to fire all those employees if the executives took a pay cut!". Wagner should probally follow the lead of Ford's CEO and take a 100% paycut for himself until they become profitable again. There is still a lot of work to be done this year to make up that 8 billion dollar gap. With a brand new SUV line added to an already solid lineup of cars it would seem a bit of key marketing this year could put them in a position to cut their deficit in half or even more. If not expect to see GMAC sold off pretty quick to stave off bankrupcy.

This weeks trivia question: In what year was the last time GM has cut its divdends?
The answer can be found in next week's post.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Ferrari Returns to ALMS

Having skipped the 2004 season, Ferrari will once again compete in the ALMS: Risi Competizione will field two 430 GTs in the GT2 class. Although not of the same caliber as the LeMans-winning Prodrive 550 Maranellos, the 430 GTs will nonetheless add some much-needed competition to GT2. Despite Panoz' best efforts, GT2 had essentially become a Porsche Parade, and the addition of the Risi Ferraris is a welcome one that will be exciting to watch.

Ferrari 430GT