Monday, January 4, 2010

Love Lost

Recently @ScottMonty from Ford posted on his Twitter account:

Hey @FordFiesta agents, what do you think of this? #fiestamovement cc @samdelag

The article basically says America no longer loves cars. I thought I loved cars. Then I drove a Ford Fiesta for 6 months, it completely changed my mind on what to expect from an inexpensive car. I should disclose Ford loaned it to me for free, paid for the gas and insurance, but most people already know that.

Here's my rambling reply to the article:

I think there are several issues at work here

First of all, what defines love? For some people it's the styling, for others it's the freedom that the car allows, and for others it's the utility. Look at Jeep...people love those things, because it represents the freedom of off roading and go anywhere ruggedness.

I completely agree with you that someone who just sees their car as a commuter box is NOT in love with their car.

Sadly, most Americans have been lulled into complancy by watered down cars. But I don't think that Americans have lost their love affair with cars, I think car companies have lost their passion.

As car companies strive to be the most reliable, they lose sight of design and creativity. Instead, the cars get analyzed, studied by focus groups, and assailed by engineers and accountants. Look at the most reliable brands sold in the US: Honda and Toyota. I can honestly say I have never done a double take of any (factory/default) vehicle sold by either of those brands. I bought a Honda Element because it was reliable, and it allowed me freedom to load up just about anything, tow my light boat, let the dog jump up on the seats, etc etc. I did not buy the Element b/c of how it looked. I loved the E for it's ability to let me go camping, boating, and enjoy the outdoors. I came to appreciate it's boxy looks, but in a "you can't tell a family member they're not good looking" kind of way. I loved it so much that I made a farewell video for it when I sold it.

I think the challenge car manufactures face is making extraordinary cars for normal people. Their is no shortage of extraordinary cars for people with lots of money, or people who are passionate about cars (Mustang, GT-R, Camero, etc).

Here's what needs to happen. Detroit needs to get the attention of their customers. Court them, if you will. Get the customer to notice them. Find out what the customer wants. Then deliver it in a customizable, affordable, reliable package. And when I say "customizable" I don't mean your choice of Tan leather or Beige cloth seats. Maybe offer LED lighting, or an App store for the in dash computer. Throw in a season of Top Gear on DVD, and let Clarkson and his gang do the educating.

In many cases people don't even know want they want in a car. All they know is how much it should cost, and quite frankly, that is the worst way to make any buying decision. In this case, Detroit needs to tell people what they want. Come up with new ways to get people to put their butt into a vehicle and try it. Have the sales guy stop talking about the financing and the weather. Maybe offer a driving class with the purchase of a vehicle, even if it's not a performance car.

Look at how Apple sells computers. They find out what you're into. Photos? Then they talk about iPhoto and how it can geotag and do facial recognition. Like to go online and facebook? Then they talk about fewer viruses and the speed of the Safari browser. See a pattern?

They're not talking about the computer, they're talking about furthering your passion.

Another part of the problem is the fact the most people finance their cars. They look at it from the perspective that the car only needs to last 3-5 years, or the term of their lease or whatever. Every 3-5 years they switch cars. Go to the dealership. Fill out stacks of paperwork. After doing this for 10 years, they're exhausted. They don't want to go back to the dealership. They just want a car, to put them out of their misery.

Imagine if you had to buy a dishwasher every 3 years. You would be so tired of going to Home Depot, you'd just say hey give me the new model and lets be done with it.

The longer I've owned a vehicle, the more I've grown to love it. As I have more experiences with the car (road trips, seeing old friends, going new places), it takes hold. As long as the car is reliable, it's a recipe for success. When I start to get a little tired of the car, and it needs a freshening, hey I put better rims or tires on the car. Next up, what about a remote starter? At 75,000 miles? time for a stereo upgrade.

Here's an idea: offer periodical upgrades to the car as part of the purchase price. For free. It could be hardware (fog lights, new floor mats) or maybe even a software upgrade (helllooooo app store can you hear me? Do you realize people PAY to upgrade their Navigation systems?)

What's more expensive? To keep the current customer or get a new one? So why don't car companies try to keep people in the same car, longer? Yes I know they need to sell cars every month, but maybe they could become more profitable by adding long term value to the cars. In other words, sell fewer cars, but sell more add-ons. In turn, take the profits and build more creative and reliable cars. Invest in the cars, AND the customers. Give out freebies. Become awesome.

I agree with you that for the past 10 years or so Detroit has sucked at selling cars. Oh look another car commercial with some winding roads and a car and the announcer saying "just sign and drive terms and leasing $499 mumble mumble mumble".

I disagree that people have lost their love of cars, and I just think that their love is dormant.

Let the awakening begin!

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