Yes, 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.
Posts Tagged ‘Mercedes’
Of course, what is commonly referred to as the Chinese phoenix, the fenghuang, only distantly resembles the phoenix of the West. So, erudite reader, please forgive the amateurish use of the phoenix as a metaphor for what’s going on in China’s automotive sector. Mercedes, BMW, or Audi are all reporting very positive developments from the Chinese market. This confirms what insiders to the automotive industry and experts in cross-cultural marketing have long pointed out silently. It’s not necessarily (only) available income that drives purchasing decisions, but national culture plays a big role, too. Income levels in China would suggest that smaller models are sought after, but the opposite is true. Status, power and prestige are very important elements of Chinese culture. Several years ago now, Volkswagen had planned to rapidly increase market share in China by offering a small car – assuming that with rising levels of affluence, everyone would buy a small, entry-level car. Guess what, they didn’t. The polo was simply too small for the Chinese market. Today, larger Volkswagen models such as the Passat or the Tiguan are doing a lot better. Owning a luxury car is the ultimate sign of social status, and so demand in the premium automotive segment is on a constant rise. In July, Audi sold about 50 percent more cars in China than last year, BMW about 80 % more and Mercedes-Benz even tripled its sales. And all of this despite the rather high luxury taxes in China which raise the prices of the flagship models – the S-Class, the 7-series, or the A8 – to about double from what they are in Europe. These developments certainly come at the right time for luxury carmakers whose sales have been less than favorable in their core markets in the West in past years. The Chinese fenghuang is a symbol of virtue and grace – very similar to what the Mercedes brand stands for. Maybe my use of the metaphor isn’t that off after all.
German carmaker Daimler announced that it will move part of its C-class production to Alabama. Besides Germany, the C-class has already been produced in two other countries for a while – South Africa and China. The facility in Tuscaloosa, Alabama that so far has specialized in Daimler’s M-, GL- and R-class vehicles. When the production first started in Alabama about 10 years ago it received high acclaim for its high efficiency and novel approach to dealing with cultural differences. Not many difficulties to be expected in this case – too bad for this blog. But hey, who knows? It’s still a German company in the United States!