#91 Automotive Branding Gone … Mild

Car LogosYes, we’ve all heard the story about the Chevrolet Nova (not true as I have reported on this blog earlier), the Mitsubishi Pajero, the Mitsubishi Colt and other car models. However, behind those obvious and funny stories of branding blunders, there’s also some cultural richness and subtlety to explore. Have you ever thought about the names US car manufacturers brand their cars with? Ford EXPEDITION, Jeep PATRIOT, Lincoln NAVIGATOR, Dodge CHARGER – the list is endless. All of these names are more than just inventions of overly creative marketeers. They stand for something, and they provide identity. They’ve been chosen to describe the essence of the model, but also because they address some deep emotional needs of customers in the target group. To most customers in the United States, EXPEDITION stands for something positive, and so does PATRIOT or CHARGER. These are culturally loaded names for car models that conjure some of the positive values that most Americans have grown up with – individuality, initiative, responsibility, competition, to name but a few. Now stop and think about German car models (and, for the sake of the argument, let’s leave Volkswagen out of the equation for a moment). Mercedes has the A-class, the B-class, the C-class and so on. And when they go really crazy, those jovial Germans come up with the G-class! And BMW? They have the 1-series, the 3-series, the 5-series… You get the idea. Now what do these tell us about German cultural values? Germans value ideas such as structure, order, hierarchy, logic, but also the perfection of engineering that is buried in the numbers and letters. The big mystery of course is why do Americans then still like German luxury cars? Maybe it’s the lure of the exotic, maybe it’s that model names aren’t the most important factors in the purchase decision, or maybe it’s just one of those inexplicable paradoxes of culture.

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14 Responses to “#91 Automotive Branding Gone … Mild”

  1. Fröschl Benedikt Says:

    Breaking it down to the pure chosen names for the different cars it seems for me German car companies want to carry out their cliché for hierarchy, logic, exact work, structure and much more.

    And their thinking could truly be at its perfection. Seen from a marketing point of view people always tend to buy products or even services, which is connected to long tradition, historical backgrounds, good old philosophy because these aspects touch their emotions. So, maybe German car companies base their new models on the roots they have knowing that they also need a fresh and innovative marketing strategy in combination – and I think this is a good mix that already works: Showing the long term tradition they have with the models name and cause a desire for (unfulfilled) wishes with classical ads.

    I am of the opinion, that people do not want something completely new. Just a few new aspects about something well known and who of us do not want a well-working engine with a perfect design.
    On the other hand, maybe it is just a lack of creativity of Germans and as they are used to from history they have never heard anything about market-pull, just technology-push.

    However, the success of some German car companies underpins their strategy in both countries with different and indifferent values of individualism and power distance. Americans and Germans are relatively equal regarding to this as we can see it on Hofstede’s world map (http://www.targetmap.com/viewer.aspx?reportId=9826 and http://www.targetmap.com/viewer.aspx?reportId=6648).

    To sum up we can say that we can’t break it down to just a single aspect when it comes to intercultural aspects and the whole is more than the sum of its parts. But we can clearly point out, that in terms of giving cool names to cars addressing the basic emotions of people the Americans are a big step further than Germans.

  2. Johannes Says:

    In my opinion one reason for the different ways finding names for vehicles can be found in the different working styles of the Germans and Americans. The Germans are planning and analysing everything they do. They are very formal and straight. On the other side the Americans are more creativ. Americans are more willing to take risks and they act more emotionally. Germans are using letters and numbers for their models to express the composition of a model row. The buyer can easily find out for what the model stands for. Is it a small car or a big strong car. With names the Americans combine every car with an emotion. Because of the name a costumer maybe can identify for which use the car stands for. The Germans are not willing to take high risks. If we look at the dimensions of national culture, one dimension is the Uncertainty Avoidance (UAI). Strong rules and clear structures can be found in contries with a high UAI. Germany (65) has a higher UAI as America (46). http://www.targetmap.com/viewer.aspx?reportId=6689

    In America a car is a status symbol. With an expensive car people show that they are successful. The American way of life… you can reach everything! A German car stands for success, and this could be a reason why Americans buy German cars.

  3. Alexander Graf Says:

    Look at the picture on the top, you can see a vast number of car manufacturers and every one of these have not only one car or one series… Fortunately it is a very huge target group around the whole world and that the reason why so much car manufacturers are on live.
    A Marketer now, every company should have a Unique selling Proposition (USP) and also a different image with a different branding, to create a gap to your competitor. So for me it is fascinating that there exists this high number of different logos. The car manufacturers have also to name their products different. The most manufacturers set by the name-building-process on their history, or they continue the strategies they have selected years before (also historical).

    As Benedikt said in his comment, Americans and Germans are relatively equal regarding on Hofstede´s world map and maybe this is the reason why cars from Germany are also well sold in America. They are also interested in these kinds of cars with this name. The name is in my point of view an important force, but not the most important force.

    A further reason why the cars are well sold could be, for both, the German and the Americans the care is a prestige product. Both will show there social levels and will impress the neighbours and there colleges. So maybe it is a way to “win” the battle with your neighbours if you buy a German car, while all others battle with American cars against each other.

    So, in brief I think that the name of the cars were an important force. The manufacturers have to separate their products and so the most of them set on traditions by the name building process. So if you buy a car you buy the name and you also buy a kind of tradition from the car manufacturer and from the country where the car is from.

  4. Lisa Fedl Says:

    The big mystery of why Americans like German luxury cars can be explained with the help of different theories. In some of the posts it was already referred to Hofstede’s cultural dimensions. From my point of view this model seems to be ideal to describe the phenomenon of German luxury cars in America.

    In my opinion, the dimensions Individualism, Uncertainty Avoidance as well as Masculinity play an important part in connection with cars.
    Starting with Individualism it can be stated that both countries show high scores although the USA are ranked higher (with 91 points) than Germany (with 67). This result is reflected in the category “car names” due to the fact that both countries use individualistic approaches to name their cars. As German engineers are known for their structure, logic and accuracy, it is no surprise that they translate their values in names of their car models. Americans take a more emotional approach. They use names such as “Navigator” where the person who hears the name immediately receives a mental image of the car. In that case it is not necessary to further explain the name as it is clear that the car behind will not be a small one such as the Nissan “Micra”.
    However, Americans like to buy German cars although they are not named in an emotional style. Taking Audi as an example, the model name “A6” might not have such a mental impact on the American consumer as the name “Navigtor” mentioned above. But it still leaves room for assumptions. On the one hand the “A” can be seen as something on the top as it is for example the first letter in the alphabet. On the other hand, the number may refer to number of people who could fit in the car. Or it could apply to a scale which often reaches from one to ten. Therefore six is something over the average and seems to be attractive. With these examples I want to point out that the name of German cars, even if they are not given on an emotional basis, are easily to understand and are individualistic enough for the American car market.

    The dimension Uncertainty Avoidance may play a decisive role in the decision process for a German car. Starting with the scores based on Hofstede’s Table it can be declared that the USA have a lower score (46) than Germany (65). This result may be reflected in the approach of car development in each country. Germany who has a higher score and therefore has a higher attempt to avoid uncertainty follows a clear structure. They have certain model series which basically stay the same. They just develop further their models and from time to time introduce a new line. Audi for example, has a general model line such as the “A-line”. Within this line, there are different models from A1 to A8. But the company also has a sporty line which is denoted with “S”. Several “basic” models such as the A5 are available in its sporty version as S5. Furthermore Audi has a SUV line where the models are named with “Q”. The “basic” model A3 is disposable as Q3.
    Providing these examples I want to emphasize that the German automotive industry has a clear system of how to name the car and therefore provide the customers with simple information regarding the models’ allocation in the product portfolio. The American industry also has the same approach regarding the consistency of car names but with their emotional oriented versions it is hard to put the models in a clear scheme. The customers may appreciate the “Audi-approach” as they know exactly what they buy and will not be surprised by the features of the car. From my perspective this is also appealing for Americans.

    The last dimension I want to focus on is Masculinity. The scores of the countries lie closely allied (USA: 62; GER: 66) and are high in comparison to other countries. As consumers in masculine countries are identified as spenders who want to buy expensive prestige products, it becomes clearer why German cars are well sold in America. Managers for example, are seen as heroes in the American society and the might buy a German car as status symbol for their success in business. The fact that German engineers are known as leaders in the car manufacturing sector may provide another explanation for the mystery of German cars in America.
    Summing up it can be said that German cars are high quality products and therefore it is no surprise that they are requested around the world.

  5. Horst Says:

    The discussion about the cultural aspects of branding car series’ names and the different schemes of American and German car manufacturers may explain a part of the picture. I am not sure if the structured and technically oriented naming classification of Audi and BMW is really an expression of the cultural differences between USA and Germany in terms of UAI and IND, the both dimension where the countries indicators differ most. (http://geert-hofstede.com/germany.html). Maybe it has more to do with a known image – so A8 was known as the flagship of Audi limousines and stood for luxury cars for executives and people of a certain wealth.
    And this would have been the same with Jaguar which also had a letter-number system but was originally British. And there are German manufactures like Volkswagen and Opel who use names like Touareg, Pheaton or Cascada, Ampera, Insignia etc. So what I mean is that it might be interpreted as an outcome of cultural dimension but my explanation is more that this mostly has historical reasons ( both Audi and BMW always used this system of naming) and established it – so why change. It was successful since they always were leading companies in their home markets.
    So why are they also successful in US – from my point of view it has a more to do with the brand image. Like wealthy people wear certain watches (Patek Philip, Rolex, IWC,…) – Swiss watches stand for high quality and status. Many people may buy such a watch regardless how it is named. It shows something to other people. (“Want have” effect) I belief it is similar with Audis, BMW or Mercedes. So upper middle class, executives etc. drive cars that show their status. And they named cars made to a status symbol e.g. in the US. And this is nothing coming by itself – it is great brand management and high level marketing which is essential in foreign markets. Sure the clear structured naming convention (A1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8) helps to very quickly identify where on the ladder the owner stands.(A little bit strange is Mercedes: A-class is the smallest car type – A-class might better symbolize top class. But even there everybody who is a little bit interested in cars knows that S-Class at Mercedes is what A8 is at Audi). The second aspect might simply be design – the actual BMW and Audi cars seem to meet the sense of taste of American people in their target group ( better than some American cars do and better than Mercedes maybe)
    And this is essential because it is also very different in different markets. (Think of some Asian car design which is really very strange for Western countries)

  6. Johann Says:

    The way the different companies name their car models expresses very much the differences of cultures, their values, the way of life and mentality. Manufacturers and / or their markets are influenced very much by the environment. Hofstede’s cultural dimensions help to understand that.
    Companies need to know the differences, needs and values for a systematic entry of markets.
    It seems that these are based on history, structure of the society, manner of the whole life of people and everything else what is essential, shows attitudes or influences a life style.
    When we focus German car manufacturers, they go with their names according to the typical German values like hierarchy, highly developed and innovative technology, long life time, best quality and reliability. Efficiency is much highlighted and saving money on a long term basis is important too.
    When we look to Mercedes series A, B, C … or BMW 1, 3, 5, 7 … or Audi A1, A3, A5… it is always like that. Germans are well known as very accurate and they procure that all these arguments cost valuable money. Many additional accessories are not standard and thus surcharge.
    Looking to US companies we recognize even by the name of the car models other values and attitudes, a different mentality and another way of life. People seem to be or at least more adventurous, hierarchy is not so important, everybody can reach everything, moving once residence is typical several times in a lifetime and people look more for their personal freedom. To implement these traits and emotionalize the customers, US companies focus on names for cars like Ford Mustang, Dodge Charger, Lincoln Navigator, Corvette or Crossfire. Big cars with lots of horse power are important to reach any place but gas consumption and efficiency are not so essential. To be on the road again with a (big and thus) safe car prompts emotions of freedom and adventure.
    Americans like German cars because there is a great parity between US and Germany: “Big and expensive cars are status symbols too and they stand for success and power!”
    American respects the highly sophisticated technology of German engineers, the quality and recognized the big economic success of Germany. In my opinion German technology is a brand itself in US which encourages Americans to buy German cars and more and more either the smaller ones. It stands for a life style like raising the job ladder in life (model hierarchy), becoming more valuable and all that doesn’t exclude to be adventurous too and if only on vacation.

  7. Sam Says:

    The cultural car buying habits of Americans do in fact seem to tie in to the idea that a car is an extension of a person. Americans spend far more time in their cars than do most Europeans. We not only buy cars with names that we can identify with but we also go so far as putting vanity license plates, bumper stickers and license plate decals on our cars so people know where we went to school, how many kids we have, etc. The individualist culture at play here makes it perfectly acceptable to use a car to show status or personality and we buy cars with names because we often like the sounds of these names and they can evoke different emotions. Having said that, American car buyers are growing more savvy in terms of the quality they expect from a vehicle. German imports are known worldwide for having the best motors and driving experience. Americans insist though on having the model clearly visible on the car. German drivers buy the cars because of speed and driving enjoyment first and as a status symbol second. Americans are limited by strict speed limits making ownership of a fast car almost impractical. The purchase of these cars is almost exclusively a socially acceptable way to show that a person is successful and living up to the “American Dream”. The names of cars personifies them and makes them relatable to us but American cars are losing ground as more Americans see them as inferior to imports. Interestingly Japanese manufacturers also name their cars despite their collectivist mindset. My final observation to point out however is that the number one selling American car is the Ford F-150 which noticeably does not have a name. This seems to suggest that while names are good for marketing and may play a small role in the purchasing decision, they can not be considered above quality as a reason to buy.

  8. Martin J. Says:

    In some of the previous posts it was already referred to Hofstede cultural model. For the context of this blog the Germans in general are very formal and straight forward as well as are known for their “German precision”. And in contrast the American culture is based on values such as life-style, national pride, time-honored traditions (historical) and the emotions that come with it. The biggest cultural difference between the American and the Germans is the “Long Term Orientation” (please refer to figure 1). (Clearly Cultural, 2004-2015) (The Hofstede Center, thc – United States, n.d.) (The Hofstede Center, thc Germany, n.d.)
    As mentioned in a post by a predecessor, many Americans buy German cars because of the quality as well as for prestige reasons. However, Joseph Pine argued that authenticity and the emotions as a business approach or philosophy are becoming the new consumer sensibility (Pine, 2004). Many American car manufacturer used this business approach and launched brand revivals of former successful car models (e.g. Mustang, Charger, Challenger, Torino, etc.) and expected to spark childhood memories and emotions associated with those replicas at the buyers. From a systematic entry point of view is the product readiness for those brands given. (Dr. Apfelthaler, 2015)(Pine, 2004) Nevertheless, American auto culture is even considered as an investment where wealthy car lovers put their money into hard assets to hedge against declining stocks. Bloomberg Business argues that classic-car values rise 54%. (Durisin, 2013)
    An interesting aspect is that for instance Ford’s F-150 follows the German naming convention to some extent. The “F” stands for full-size pick-up truck and the 150 has its link to the payload of 1500 lbs. (Macgregor, 2011) An analogy to a systematic car model notation is the road system in North America which is very straight forward and even for foreigners easy to understand. In street names are a combination of the cardinal direction and an incremented number. A fascinating observations is that even in the North American road system are the to begin with mentioned values anchored. Almost in every (historical) city or town, street names such as Washington St., Lincoln St., Franklin St., etc. can be found. However, with that being said, the author is of the opinion that the American and the German cultures might be more alike than we thought of to begin with. (Knight, 2012) (Google Sites, n.d.)
    For the sake of completeness it is worth to mention that Volkswagen follows a curious naming convention by using wind and stream names, such as Bora, Jetta, Scirocco, Passat, etc. for the model labeling (Volkswagen Utah, 2013). In the American market Volkswagen even changed the model name “Bora” to “Jetta” which follows a localization strategy (Dr. Apfelthaler, 2015, p. 42). The author is of the opinion that the American can identify themselves with those names and thus the naming convention is used as a unique selling preposition.
    Just as a thought for my closure – what will Audi, BMW or Mercedes do when the future markets require even smaller cars as the A1, 1-series or A-class? Are they running out of numbers and characters? The American auto manufacturer as well as Volkswagen just will come with a new name…

    Works Cited
    Clearly Cultural. (2004-2015). Individualism | Clearly Cultural. Retrieved 04 05, 2015, from http://www.clearlycultural.com/geert-hofstede-cultural-dimensions/individualism/
    Dr. Apfelthaler, G. (2015). Product Readiness. MBA Lecture: BUS592 International Business (3) – BUS592-GA-(3).pdf, 1-57.
    Durisin, M. (2013, 08 15). Bloomberg Business. Retrieved 04 05, 2015, from Classic-Car Values Rise 54%, Reviving Detroit Repair Shop: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2013-08-15/classic-car-values-rise-54-reviving-detroit-repair-shop
    Google Sites. (n.d.). United States of America – Road Numbering Systems. Retrieved 04 05, 2015, from https://sites.google.com/site/roadnumberingsystems/home/countries/united-states-of-america
    Knight, P. (2012, 01 09). The American Grid. Retrieved 04 05, 2015, from A History of the American Grid in 4 Minutes: http://www.thegreatamericangrid.com/archives/777
    Macgregor, R. (2011). The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 04 05, 2015, from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-drive/culture/commuting/what-do-the-numbers-on-pickup-trucks-mean/article4251515/
    Pine, J. (2004). Joseph Pine: What consumers want. Retrieved 04 05, 2015, from TED.com: http://www.ted.com/talks/joseph_pine_on_what_consumers_want/transcript?language=en
    The Hofstede Center. (n.d.). thc Germany. (itim international, Producer) Retrieved 04 05, 2015, from Germany – Geert Hofstede: http://geert-hofstede.com/germany.html
    The Hofstede Center. (n.d.). thc – United States. (itim international, Producer) Retrieved 04 05, 2015, from United States – Geert Hofstede: http://geert-hofstede.com/united-states.html
    Volkswagen Utah. (2013, 06 13). VW Model Names. Retrieved from Volkswagen Utah: https://volkswagenutah.wordpress.com/2013/06/13/vw-model-names-whats-in-a-name/

  9. Markus Kovacs Says:

    Interesting thought, that the numbering or naming scheme actually reflects the different cultural values. To some extent, that might be true, especially for the U.S. Manufacturers. For European ears, especially names like “Patriot” have some strange taste – just think about a Mercedes PATRIOT in the early 1950’s or 1920’s.
    On the other hand, picking out 3 German manufacturers to deduct a general cultural topic, is for my taste a little bit too misleading. Also the French (e.g. Peugeot) give numbers to their cars (10x, 20x, 30x, 50x, etc). I guess that most people don’t think of French as being the most sophisticated and structured engineers. On the other hand, half of the German manufacturers (Opel, Volkswagen, Porsche) is using names, rather than numbers.
    Additionally, the structured way, BMW is giving its cars (1st number for Model-Class, followed by two digits for the engine size in ccm) was introduced in the 1980’s. The reasoning was that this would help distinguishing the different engines available for any given model. Maybe, for U.S. Cars there’s less variation in engine size, since they’ll anyway just buy big 8-cylinder engines – to stress another cliché.
    In the end, it’s not really a surprise, that the 3 manufacturers competing for the same customer base have similar naming schemes. I also would not be surprised the learn that for example the Audi A4 is numbered “4” just to give it a higher number than its BMW counterpart (the 3-series).
    So, rather than concluding that the numbering would be an indication of some cultural values, I’d rather focus on the business needs: German car manufacturers are rather export oriented than their U.S. Counterparts. If a company tries to sell its products in different countries or cultures, it can either use a (globally) neutral naming scheme (like 1,2,3, A,B,C, Bora, Passat, Manta ;-) ) or change the names of its models according to the country it is sold in – like e.g. Mazda does: Europe’s Mazda6 is called “Atenza” in Japan. The latter approach is way more cumbersome and prone to errors.
    As to the question of why Americans still like German cars, I’d think that this is not due to or despite the naming, but rather due to the image and (perceived) quality of the cars. To an even greater extent this is also true for China, where German cars have the image of quality and luxury and thus are a “must-have” for rich Chinese (another paradox considering their governmental system…)

  10. admin Says:

    Interesting position about the French – I think that the concept still holds true, but for different reasons than for the Germans. While the Germans are an expert culture, the French are very hierarchical, so the numbering system in France may express more of a desire to position oneself in a societal hierarchy then to show different levels of quality in engineering. Then again, you’re right, we can’t explain everything in simple terms – cultures are messy and complex!

  11. Markus Kovacs Says:

    Well, the hierarchical culture in France might be an explanation for the naming of the PSA-Company (Peugeot, Citroen), but for example Renault uses names (Megane, Scenic, Clio,…).
    Additionally, why don’t we see the numbering in Japan? They are expert engineers AND extremely hierarchical, but Mazda in Japan uses Names, as well as Mitsubishi, Toyota, etc.
    On the other hand, most of Rover’s (GB) cars have simple Numbers (e.g. Rover 75), not only after they’ve been acquired by BMW – well, that didn’t last long enough to overthrow the inherited naming scheme anyway.
    So, we can find both, naming and numbering schemes, coexisting in the same countries.
    In summary, I think that there might be some correlation between Naming-Schemes and cultural characteristics (a German “Patriot” Car seems as unlikely as a Chinese “444″), but not necessarily a causation.

  12. admin Says:

    All great points! As I said before, cultures are messy, and they don’t always follow the rules!

  13. Bernhard P Says:

    To me, this appears to be a discussion in the ivory tower in some ways and by far too much blown up into cultural differences (or similarities). Yes, names are a matter of taste; for people, for products, for brands. And here we certainly have a lot of cultural influences and differences.
    But I think that discussion about brand names of cars is overloaded. There is more than just the class name of a car. When we take the whole labeling of car names into consideration, we get slightly different picture: Mercedes C 190, Volkswagen Golf 6, Cadillac CTS-V, Mazda MX-5, Tesla Model 3, Toyota RAV 4, Porsche 718 Boxter, Hummer H2, and many more. Usually we see three naming parts: The manufacturer, the model, class, or platform, and usually one or more additional name affixes. It’s the whole name that brings the sound and I would not break the discussion down to the middle names only. I dare say the manufacturers name is much more important to serve as a status symbol than the class names. The differentiation between Ford Focus and Ford Mondeo is less emotional than between Ford and Cadillac.
    Yes, there is a preference for names instead of numbers in the US – at least for cars. But I could not find an explicit favor of German manufacturers for numbers. I did some research and statistical analysis on a list of 65 car brands worldwide (44 after eliminating extra small and less known brands) and found that one does better not try to find explanations for the nomenclature of German cars, but for US only. The results showed, that we have nearly equal systematics for class names all over the world with a 60% preference for nouns, about 30% for numbers, and 10% for a mix of both. There seems to be no significant difference here for Great Britain, Germany, France, Japan, and China, with one exception: The US! So, better let’s ask: Why are US customers and companies different to the rest of the world instead of unsubstantial nationalistic speculations about hypothetical differences in mindsets and hierarchies?


  14. Martin S Says:

    In my opinion it doesn’t really matter if you are talking about the cultural difference between German and American car manufacturers. Out of the 6 big car manufacturers in Germany (Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Opel, Porsche, VW) just 3 (Audi, BMW, Mercedes) give their cars no real names but just numbers and/or letters to indicate the model. The other 3 also use model names basically like any other car manufacturer in the world. I think everybody knows the Beetle, Golf, Boxter or Omega. On the other hand side some of the American brands also use just letter number combinations like Teslas S, E, and 3 or the Hummer H2 and the Ford F150 (which is the best selling car in the US, so probably they don’t like names that much?).
    I think for the German brands the main brand is far more important than the individual model. If you like BMW it doesn’t matter which model you buy because all of them are BMWs. The same goes for Mercedes and Audi. In the USA it is a big difference if you buy a Viper or a Voyager although both are built by Chrysler.

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