Cadillac Cimarron: Never again.

There is a saying that nothing runs poorer longer than an old GM.  In more recent years, the same could be said for General Motors itself.  As Chevrolet celebrates its 100th birthday and the world waxes nostalgic about it, let’s look toward its future.

Chevrolet chose the “Chevy Runs Deep” campaign to kick off its post-bailout future.  Unfortunately, Chevy runs deep only for those who grew up unbelted in the back seat of one (in one position or another).  Scores of those people then turned en mass to foreign vehicles into which they put their own securely buckled children.  Those children now show up in dealerships online with Chevy running about as deep in their veins as a Jersey Shore plot line. The first commercial featuring this slogan starred senior citizens in a nursing home.  It was like an advertising Freudian slip.

Chevrolet can’t look toward the past in order to sell the future.  Consider that millions of people around the world, many of them young, line up for days to purchase a new Apple product before it even hits the shelves.  Not a single one is doing so because they remember playing with an iPad 2 when they were 5 years-old.  So how does Chevy keep the headlights on? (Besides selling Buicks to the Chinese like plastic surgeons selling their services in Hollywood)


1. Only allow women to design, source, and build vehicle interiors. GM actually took the initiative on this one when they hired Anne Asensio to give them desperately, desperately, desperately needed help in the interior design department.  True story: My mother owned the same car for 16 years (non-GM).  When it finally became time to replace her beloved car, she went straight to the dealer to buy the updated model.  After sitting in her new car for the first time (note to reader: crying makes for a very good negotiating tactic), she looked around the interior for 0.3 seconds, touched the steering wheel, and then said, “This car is junk”.  It took less than one second after 16 years of blissful ownership for her to dislike her new car based solely on sitting in it.  Mothers are always right, hire them.

2.  No executive is allowed to drive a new car. It drives me crazy to see automobile executives driving the newest and most expensive cars its company sells.  GM executives need to drive what the majority of its current and potential customers drive – a 10 year-old car with around 100,000 miles on it.  If every pre-bailout GM executive drove a 10 year-old Oldsmobile Achieva, they might still have a job.

3.  All managers must learn to fight.  Boxing, mixed martial arts, hand-to-hand combat techniques – whatever it takes to stoke an aggressive disposition (toward the competition, not one another).  Contrary to popular belief, you don’t achieve catharsis or “getting your anger out” by hitting things.  You become more aggressive.  Enough with the benchmarking, fight to become the benchmark.

4.  Make turning around against company policy. No turning around in offices, meetings, hallways, parking lots, and certainly not while driving.  Every employee must always look forward.  If they turn around, they might see a Chevy Chevette, Cadillac Cimarron, or any Pontiac with enough non-recyclable plastic glued to it to make even Rush Limbaugh blush.  The future is one-way only.  Look that way.

5. Change the bowtie for non-truck vehicles. This last suggestion is admittedly the most controversial, but to me, the gold-colored bowtie is psychologically soiled.  Every time I see it, I have an immediate negative emotional reaction.  It’s automatic.  For so many years, that bowtie adorned some pretty bad cars.  In fact, a lot of the time it wasn’t even gold, it was just embossed in bad plastics.  I know it’s iconic, but I would love to see it updated, much like Chevy is doing with some wonderful new products.



Aston-Martin Rapide: Arguably the most beautiful hatchback ever.

A recent post on Autoblog understandably laments Kia’s decision to price the Rio hatchback higher than the Rio sedan.  The concern is that such pricing will decrease the likelihood that customers will purchase the hatchback version, and increase the likelihood that our automotive landscape will continue to be marred by the car equivalent of weeds.  Although this concern may make intuitive sense, Kia’s and other automakers’ pricing schemes may actually increase the esteem of hatchbacks in customers’ eyes and ultimately increase hatchback sales.

Automotive enthusiasts (and much of the rest of the world) tend to like hatchbacks.  They are versatile, arguably better looking than sedans, and primed for sportiness.  In contrast, it has been said many times that Americans do not like hatchbacks.  Given the above arguments, Americans’ supposed aversion to hatchbacks makes little sense.  Whenever behavior seems illogical, psychology can usually explain it.  This case is no exception.

1984 VW GTI: The "hot hatch" that started it all for sporty hatches in the U.S.

Even the most basic car-buying decision is influenced by emotions.  For many decades, Baby Boomers have dominated the automobile consumer segment.  Many Boomers came of age in an era of large sedans that evoke wonderful memories (ironically, memories made all the more distant by Boomers’ decisions to seemingly ruin the very things that made those cars possible).  In addition, hatchbacks began to infiltrate showrooms in earnest during the 1970s oil crisis.  Hatchbacks were largely offered for economy and not for versatility, looks, or sportiness.  Thus, they do not have any real nostalgia associated with them for most of the car-buying population, and they may be perceived as cheap alternatives to sedans.

Negative emotions 1 Hatchbacks 0

1957 Chevy Bel Air: Hard to believe that the sedans of the 1950s would give rise to the success of Camrys and Accords today.

Fast forward to today.  While it is likely that hatchbacks are still perceived as being relatively low rungs on the automotive ladder, the reality is not so simple.  First, ultra-luxury cars such as the Porsche Panamera and Aston-Martin Rapide (one of the most gorgeous cars to ever grace the roadways) are hatchbacks.  Yes, really.  Furthermore, the new Ferrari FF and proposed Bentley shooting brake are also hatchback/wagon variants.  Second, Mini Coopers, Audi A3s, and even VW GTIs are on the premium side of the double-yellow line, albeit at much lower price points than the previously mentioned cars.  Third, an increasing number of new vehicle launches (Ford Fiesta and Focus, Chevy Sonic, Hyundai Veloster) and industry stalwarts (VW GTI and Mazda Mazdaspeed 3) are hatchback-heavy or only offered in hatchback form.  While some of them are aimed at people on a budget, none are being offered as lesser variants of their sedan siblings.  In fact, it’s quite the opposite.  The result is that a new generation (literally) is growing up with and aspiring to own, dare I say it, hatchbacks!

The score may be beginning to even out.

Ferrari FF: Arguably the most maniacal-looking hatchback ever.

So what role does pricing play in this psychological equation?  Pricing is important to our perception of a product’s place in the market.  For example, suppose you walk into Home Depot with intentions of purchasing a power tool, something about which you hypothetically know nothing.  You see a bunch of drills laid out in front of you, all of which look similar.  However, some are priced in the $50 range, others in the $150 range, and yet others in the $400 range.  All else being equal, which range of drills do you perceive as “better”?  Exactly.  That is why hatchbacks may actually benefit from higher prices relative to their dowdy siblings.

Have no fear hatchback fans.  Before long, you may be lamenting that you see too many of them on road as opposed to not enough.  We’ll save the psychological lure of exclusivity for another time though.


Rolls-Royce Ghost: Great name

Recent reports suggest that Land Rover may drop its alphanumeric nomenclature (LR2, LR4) in the United States.  The company is ostensibly planning to revert back to its vehicles’ God-given names of Freelander and Discovery.  This move will allow for both global naming consistency and an opportunity for potential customers to recognize, associate, and remember the names of Land Rover products.  To this I say, “thank you”!

Much like wheel sizes and their commensurate low-profile tires, alphanumeric naming has gotten out of control.  How did this insidious trend happen?  It seems likely that someone has data somewhere suggesting that Americans are more likely to associate alphanumeric nomenclature with higher-end vehicles.  This association makes sense given that millions of us were raised with aspirations of owning, or at least having an appreciation for, BMW and Mercedes (I am referring back to when their alphanumeric naming schemes were actually decipherable).

There are several problems with alpha, numeric, and alphanumeric nomenclatures.  My biggest concern is when manufacturers switch to one of these naming schemes from a more traditional one.  For example, Acura went from making Integras and Legends that everyone knew and loved to making RSXs and RLs that are more difficult names (and thus cars) to pin down.  It is true that this change put them more on naming par with Lexus and Infiniti.  However, Lexus and Infiniti used alphanumeric names since their inception.  Similarly, Mazda one day began insisting that journalists refer to the iconic and revered “Miata” as the “MX-5”.  There was nearly a revolt.  In turn, Mazda came up with the roll-off-the-tongue compromise, “MX-5 Miata”.  I cannot think of another industry where manufacturers actively try to diminish name recognition.

Another problem with using alphabet soup to come up with car names is that companies run the risk of them being nonsensical.  Nonsensical names are harder to remember and therefore so are the cars.  Case in point, Lincoln.  Other than car buffs (and even that may be a stretch), I doubt most people know the difference between the MKS, MKZ, and MKX.  True, “MK” has some relationship to the historical “Marks,” but most people will not know that either.  Ask anyone who makes the Town Car versus asking who makes the MKZ.  There is no doubt that the percentage knowing the latter will be significantly higher.

Lincoln MKZ: Name could use some work

It is also worth nothing that ultra-luxury cars use names, from Bentley Mulsannes and Flying Spurs (so cool) to Rolls-Royce Phantoms and Ghosts (equally cool, if not more so).  Names tend to evoke more emotion, which in this case will facilitate recall.  Alphanumeric nomenclatures, particularly those that are a departure from the names to which people grew accustomed, will not.  It is fine to spice up a regularly named lineup with an RX-7 or a GTI here and there, but it becomes distracting and potentially damaging when meaningless and emotionless names are used.  Please Acura, bring back the legendary Legend, and make the car worthy of the name.  You will be recognized, remembered, and rewarded.