Turn Your Heels to the Shade and Shuffle Down the Lane, Peggy

Think about the tear-stained debates about whether Jaguar should offer a diesel. Or the debate as to whether BMW and Co. should sell hatchbacks. Or the switch to front drive (and back).

Unthinkable: bmwblog.co.uk

What these discussions have in common is that they relate to the “tension between consistency and relevance”. That is the title of a paper from the J. Acad. Mark. Sci which I have been reading. The authors are Beverland, M. et al who relate design thinking and brand ambidexterity as a means to allow companies to strike a balance between on the one hand providing customers with what they expect from a brand and on the other hand, changing enough to keep up with the market and changes in society.

Strong brands, they write, deliver many valuable outcomes for firms such as price premiums, loyal customers and sales. Defending the brand means not confusing customers with sudden or unsettling changes. And this was the dichotomy faced in particular at the dawn of the diesel age. I can recall angry journalists and readers horrified by the possibility of diesel Alfas and diesel Jaguars. The debate over whether RR should make an SUV are in the same vein.

(c) esquire

Beverland et al. cite the case of the Premier Automotive Group as being one where brand stability came at the expense of innovation. That’s actually questionable: Jaguar switched to aluminium and Volvo’s range of cars was extended. Or do they have in mind only aesthetic stability?

At present the biggest challenge being faced by the industry is electrification. Having seen that diesel engines did not kill BMW or Jaguar and that BMW buyers can accept front-wheel-drive too, I feel that any anxiety over electric Ferraris and electric Mazdas are unwarranted. The real question is can they go electric fast enough.

Beverland et al layout a matrix for change. On one axis is high/low consistency and on the left right axis is low/high relevance. High consistency and low relevance is what we know as business as usual. BMW have been doing this for years with some exceptions such as the i3 and i8. Thirty years ago the estate version of the 5-series was a mild version of disruptive brand extension. You could say that Citroen in its glory days (and the French in general) favoured disruptive brand extension – that their brand was about disruption.

Today, if we consider that matrix, the switch to electric is one the kind of disruptive brand extension that any serious car maker needs to be considering. That or radical brand innovation (bottom left) which is where GM decides to get out of making cars and turn into a health care company or Porsche reinvents itself as a maker of wind turbines and solar panels.

Pretty much all the agonised discussions in the evolution of the car have been about this tension between the need to protect brand value and the need to follow the market. What might be interesting to consider today is examples where high relevance and high consistency change did not work.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

20 thoughts on “Turn Your Heels to the Shade and Shuffle Down the Lane, Peggy”

  1. I was just really getting into the article when it ended.

    The EU has essentially decided to go EV or plug in hybrid. Yet Germany still has those two aircraft carrier sized strip-coal mining leviathans wandering the Ruhr countryside for millions of tons of brown coal, the nastiest fossil fuel around. The electricity has to come from somewhere.

    Have the steel-rim spectacle Brussels policy crowd considered practicalities of charging? Does anyone know? I don’t mean public charging stations and long waits and crowding on titchy lots.. If there’s one clear thing from the experiences I read of Tesla owners in the US, it’s that they love to charge at home overnight. For 95% of most people’s use, that means they don’t even have to spend the time they used to fueling up their old petrol/diesel cars. Very convenient for them. That’s the well-off crowd.

    Now consider what the person living in a block of flats with no underground parking faces with an EV. Or those tiny crowded Japanese streets in residential areas. Hmm. Oh well, let them eat cake and take public transit, bus or underground. Can’t see that option becoming more popular after this bout of pandemic and self-distancing. Quite the opposite, people would like nice little electric pods they can call their own. Ride-sharing zip cars? Who knows who just coughed inside it? Are we all to become sanitizing experts?

    Despite the earnest DTW desire to avoid mentioning the real world, my belief is that the far reaching consequences of what we are currently experiencing are going to shape personal transportation in ways we haven’t yet begun to consider. What then brand equity?

    1. Hello Bill: thanks for your comment. I think the points you raise illustrate the challenges of changing the infrastructure for cars. However, I think almost all of them lie in the category of problems called “tame problems”.
      The idea was discussed in contrast to “wicked problems” in a landmark paper by Rittel & Webber, 1973. Here is the abstract (https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF01405730):
      “The search for scientific bases for confronting problems of social policy is bound to fail, becuase of the nature of these problems. They are “wicked” problems, whereas science has developed to deal with “tame” problems. Policy problems cannot be definitively described. Moreover, in a pluralistic society there is nothing like the undisputable public good; there is no objective definition of equity; policies that respond to social problems cannot be meaningfully correct or false; and it makes no sense to talk about “optimal solutions” to social problems unless severe qualifications are imposed first. Even worse, there are no “solutions” in the sense of definitive and objective answers.”

      The charging infrastructure problem parallels the ones faced in the 19th century involving mains water supply and electricity networks and telephone network. I can easily imagine someone in 1903 saying how hard it would be to put a teleophone in every town or someone decrying the cost of mains water supply instalation. They were both a big pain in the neck to do and had a myriad of local, specific challenges. Large as they were as problems they were tame in that they were fully quantifiable and amenable to linear planning and engineering. Apart from a lack of will to devote the resources to the matter, I see no “wicked” reason there can´t be charging stations every 5 metres down every street where there are cars.

  2. The enforced current experiment in home working and video networking has potentially profound implications for all forms of personal and mass transport. Yesterday the head of Barclays Bank suggested that having thousands of workers in expensive offices “may be a thing of the past”.

    The automotive industry has been denial for at least the past decade, producing ever larger and more aggressive cars for our crowded and congested roads. They may be, at the margin, more fuel-efficient, but the absurdity of these devices being used to transport a single person for maybe 90% of the time is simply unsustainable, as is flying many thousands of miles to attend a meeting that could take place in a virtual environment.

    The “new normal” whatever that may be when we emerge from this crisis, could look profoundly different and the automotive industry may struggle to adjust. High Relevance and Low Consistency is undoubtedly where it needs to be on that matrix.

    1. Daniel: isn´t that model rather useful for thinking about design strategy? It´s not that I was not aware of the tension but lacked the formulation for it.

      There´s an article in this month´s Foreign Affairs that reminds readers that in 2018 there were 1.35 million car-related deaths. The authors argue that as much as can be done with legislation to mitigate the casualties has been done and that the answer lies in designing for the problem. That doesn´t mean wider roads and separation of traffic but the reverse. My view is that while cars are lovely machines in so many ways, designing and engineering our cities to suit them was a profound category mistake. I would not be sad if 90% of cars went away. There will always be museums and photos and some committed collectors to maintain the best parts of the design heritage. As the main means of transport, it was a massive mistake with some beautiful instances of art and engineering along the way.

      Speaking with my leftie, social-democrat hat on, it is imperative that the shift away from cars is not yet another instance of the poor and socially-marginal being kicked about. That will serve no-one.
      I would also like to see the matter of transportation not as a partisan cudgel. I could cite the economist Schumpeter who argued for creative destruction as a necessary part of capitalism and if his arguments are valid (as many right-leaning folk would agree) then they might apply here. Let´s find a better way to use time and capital than churning out 1800 kg machines for people to spend their time on earth trapped in.

    2. Richard, your point about cities being designed around motor vehicles rather than people is bang on the money. It’s even worse, however, when historic towns and cities have been torn apart to accommodate vehicular traffic. One of the worst examples I know of is Lincoln. There’s a labyrinth of dual carriageways, some elevated, carving through the historic city centre. It’s astonishingly ugly and difficult to navigate. There is a pedestrianised area between the castle and cathedral which is pleasant enough but the background roar of traffic noise is omnipresent.

      Our small market town has been transformed during the present lockdown. Traffic in the centre is, perhaps, 10% of normal and it makes my (once a week) experience of walking through the market square so much more pleasant.

      We have been campaigning for a 20mph zone to cover the town centre, not just as an accident reduction measure but to improve air quality: studies show that reduced acceleration and braking in 20mph zones significantly reduce pollution, particularly particulates from brake pads. The reduction in the speed limit would, hopefully, also encourage through traffic to avoid the town centre take the new but hopelessly underused bypass.

      When you think about it, the case is compelling and yet there are still those arguing it, on the basis that it would somehow affect town centre trade. This is nonsense. The town is very well served with car parks that are rarely full, yet some drivers will circle the town centre repeatedly looking for on-street parking to save them a couple of hundred yards’ walk. A 20mph zone would add no more than a couple of minutes to the journey of any vehicle still passing through.

      We have got into the habit of never using the cars if there’s another way to make the journey, either walking or taking public transport. There’s still a place for motorised personal transport, but it should be much reduced and the cars themselves should be smaller, lighter and not reliant on fossil fuels (directly or indirectly) for propulsion.

      Regarding air travel, I’ve always argued that it’s business rather than leisure travel that is largely unnecessary. Business travel is only glamorous to those who’ve never had to endure it: the wasted hours in airport departure lounges, the lost sleep, the waking dead feeling when you’re sitting in a meeting directly after returning to London after your overnight “redeye” flight from New York. 90% of such business meetings could be (and currently are being) more efficiently conducted via the Internet. That is scaring the life out of the big long-haul carriers in particular, hence British Airways announcement yesterday that up to 12,000 staff might face redundancy. Even before the Covid-19 crisis, Boeing 747 Jumbos were being retired everywhere and decade-old A380 Superjumbos are being broken up for parts less than a third the way through their expected service life because their second-hand value is nil.

      Of course, a dramatic reduction in business travel would mean that leisure travellers are no longer being heavily subsidised by those accustomed to turning left when boarding. This would make long-haul leisure travel a lot more expensive, and probably infrequent, but would that be such a bad thing? If you genuinely want to experience a foreign country and its culture, great, but if you just want sun, sea and cocktails, then fly to the Costa del Sol instead of Cancún or Florida (from the UK).

      Richard, I’ve waffled on at length and off topic, but I think that it’s not just the automotive industry that needs to study the matrix you presented in your piece, which couldn’t be more timely.

  3. A lovely article, if somewhat mind-bending / scary if applied to wider society. From ‘Do we need cars?’, I found it very easy to end up at ‘Why are we all here?’.

    Keeping things simpler, and vehicle-related, there are some old DTW favourites which are ‘highly relevant’ – have, or had a USP in the market place, and are ‘highly consistent’ – fit with a brand (I hope I have interpreted those definitions correctly).

    Firstly, I nominate the Audi A2. Novel, relevant, and high quality – perfect for its brand and the market…. apart from its price. You could argue that price and perceptions of value relate to how well potential buyers understand a concept. So, was the A2’s failure more down to duff marketing than the product itself?

    Secondly, the Renault Avantime. Good brand fit, at the time – Renault was in its adventurous phase and MPVs were the latest thing (and a sector in which Renault was strong). So, a two-door ‘coupé’ for empty nesters and their friends- all the advantages of an MPV without the nappies / pushchairs / weekly shopping vibe. Very logical and stylish, and a total failure. A great shame, and a greatly misunderstood car.

    The Avantime came to mind, as there is an excellent documentary about it from the YouTube channel, ‘Big Car’. Worth looking at, if you have a moment.

  4. The automotive industry, especially in Europe – I can’t say anything about the USA, apart from the big cities, the distances are of a size that Europeans sometimes can’t really imagine – “didn’t hear the shot”, as we use to say here in Germany. The current situation (and what’s to come in view of the upcoming big recession we will get) gives the entire management actors a brief glimpse of what’s to come. To put it in my own words, they have no idea, not even a bit. They is still stubbornly trampling on the same path that was laid out in the early 1950s.

    What particularly annoys me personally: at least since the 90s you could know that the idea of ​​the car-friendly city was a complete and particularly stupid idea.
    Instead of giving the city back to the pedestrian, the idea of ​​a bicycle-friendly city was “born”. Now we have the same as….s used to honk any pedestrian onto the side in their cars on bicycles.
    Let’s not kid ourselves, in cities you only need a car in exceptional cases. Most can be done on foot, and for the rest there is a bus, tram or subway (depending on the size of the city) or taxi. Nobody needs a fellow human being who terrorizes you by car or bicycle.

    And the worst of all: in the meantime, the whole actors-now-being-a-managers has eliminated the fun of driving.

    We have an Alfa Spider built in 1990 and an Alfasud Sprint built in 1978. With the latter I did a little tour with the 14-year-old son of our neighbors – who hadn’t even seen a record player until recently when he visited us. (For a better understanding: his father owns an Audi with 345 airbags and with which – via app or voice control, I don’t know – the auxiliary heater can be switched on, and many other absolutely indispensable gimmicks).
    You should have seen his shining eyes.
    And you can guess what his reaction was when I drove him to soccer training with the Spider.

    He will never do that again. There will be no such experiences for him (or him and his girlfriend) in the future.
    And the automotive industry will have no answer for him. Never.

    He is currently walking to school. He will walk to the university (based on his previous grades, he will be bored below a university degree) and will end up in the home office.

    Another press edge on the side of any SUV will definitely not make it another customer.

    The automotive industry as we know by now is dead. It just doesn’t know it – or it knows it and doesn’t want to admit it.

    And I don’t want to open a discussion about the partially useless bunch of politicians. Most of them have been part of the problem for the past few decades instead of being part of the solution.
    For this 14 year old boy or neither automotive-manager-actor nor politics-actor will be any kind of solution.
    Sorry to say, my generation were the privileged generation nearly in everything.

    Rant over. Let’s talk about something beautiful and nice…

    @Daniel O’Callaghan
    Thank you for your thoughts about air travel in general. Sounds like a good plan for the future.

    1. Hi Fred:
      Am I to understand that the young chap didn´t enjoy the Spider or that that was his one chance to try such a car and it won´t happen again?
      I am not sure bicycle-friendly cities are so bad. I lived in Cologne for a few years and liked the fact that it was possible to walk, bicycle, take the underground or, now and again, use my car. Most of the time I walked and biked. In Aarhus where I live now I get by mostly on foot, bike and car. We actually do have a car (not really my idea) and thought I use it I reckon its a stupid expense. I´d rather rent a car or take taxis or find some other way but domestic politics mililates against me.
      Eleswhere here I imagined a future where a few places in Europe have areas for recreational car use: the cars are in a museum and your rent them for a few days and give them back. That´d suit me.

  5. I’ve enjoyed the break from the noise and pollution associated with everyday life (that’s not to minimise the worry and misery a significant number of people are now feeling, as a result of loss of livelihood, loneliness, or bereavement, or all three). I wouldn’t want to live like this, however – humans are social creatures and there’s only so much time I would want to spend in one place, regardless of how nice that place was. I do think we could travel less and be more effective, however – especially in business.

    As for travelling, nothing beats the convenience of having a private vehicle at your disposal. Walking and cycling are fine, as long as you’re able bodied, you’re not going too far and the weather is good. I’ve always found public transport – even taxis – tremendously restricting.

    If we were to do away with oil / combustion powered vehicles / jet planes, we would need to find new jobs for the millions of people employed in those sectors. Doing so would, or rather will, take time. I further suspect that in dealing with the current crisis, governments will just try to resurrect what was there in the past, as far as possible – anything else would be too much to cope with. Ironically, I think that the current situation could slow, rather than speed up, change.

    1. Indeed – I think there´s room for a limited amount of ICE or private transport. That said, a lot could be done to make public transport better. One of my research areas is disability and PT. Alot could be done to make it better for all users including the disabled, up to and including free taxi transport to the station.
      I imagine that if people didn´t buy cars they´d buy something else and presto those jobs lost in the car industry would be replaced by other kinds of jobs. Money doesn´t like to stay in people´s pockets.

  6. Apart from Charles nobody´s taken up my challenge to think of high consistency, high-relevance designs. I will nominate one: the Mercedes 190 E (a whole new market) though not a total flop. The Opel Signum – that was probably viewed as highly-consistent and highly relevant. I still don´t see why almost nobody bought it unless it looked a lot worse to other eyes than to mine. It does what a large car does and nothing less. It even had fancy seats (a USP!).

    You could say some of BMWs GT cars are tending towards consistent but low relevant. Nobody seems to want them much although they also do all a regular hatch can do. Any others? Some American cars: that long-roofed US-market Ford that looked like a hearse: the Ford Flex (2009-2019!).

    1. I thought of the Signum but, for me, it failed the relevance test. Not that it wasn’t novel, it’s just that I struggled with the concept.

      Audi A2 – economy, efficiency, etc – okay. Avantime – luxury personal car, with fewer compromises – also okay. Signum? Kind of a limousine? I’ve never quite grasped the target market. I’ve looked at the ads for it and they suggest your colleagues and friends would appreciate being driven around in it, which is an odd pitch, unless one has upmarket mini-cabbing fantasies.

      Richard, on a different subject, please could you give me the reference / link for your ‘authentic time in your life’ article? I’d like to read it again, but can’t find it.

    2. I’m late to the game, but would nominate the VW ID.3 as a high relevance, (mid to) high consistency car. Despite its monobox design, it still has enough recognisably VW DNA. On the other hand, the e-Golf scores (too?) high on the consistency axis, but at the cost of some relevance. I suppose VW are trying to cover all bases in a crucial market segment with this pair. Which would I buy? Easy: the ID.3 because it’s the better and more progressive design.

      The 190E is a great example of a high relevance/high consistency car. What would be a good example of a low relevance/high consistency model? How about the current Mondeo? It’s a large non-premium saloon, highly derivative of its predecessor and pitched into a rapidly disappearing market.

  7. Hi Richard,
    the boy enjoyed the Sprint very much – despite the safety devices that are absolutely necessary nowadays – but had much more fun in the Spider, even though he was just sitting in the passenger seat in both of the cars.
    It later became clear to me, that he would probably not have this experience any more, being 18 and have his own driver’s license and (not) getting the chance to be on the driver seat.

    His parents will never be able to give him an answer or this happiness again, and I even more – as part of a much older generation, who had it all.
    From the automotive industry he will give the answer like a driveable iPhone or car-sharing. The politicians have also an answer: buy a bike.
    I’m sorry for the boy. I’m not sorry about the automotive industry, they crewed up years ago.

    1. Indeed – well, there are other fun things to do now. I think I got the best of car driving sometime in the 1990s when I was able to thrash a 205 on Irish back roads without worrying about my life and limb (and it was really stupid driving). I am lucky nobody got hurt. Was it worth it? Probably not. Every day a couple of young Irish people die in car crashes, probably doing the same dumb things I did in 1995.

      I am having a flashback of the unexpected petrol tanker I nearly rear-ended on the Coventry-Oxford road in 1999.

  8. Incidentally, one can still enjoy driving even if the aim is not speed. I play when driving by aiming for smoothness of operation and also, where possible, not using my brakes (this means careful driving, by the way as you need to keep an eye on the road!).

  9. Adrian – you’ve reminded me; another candidate for high consistency and relevance, but low success, the Peugeot 1007.

    https://driventowrite.com/2017/07/03/2004-peugeot-1007-failure-design-history/

    The French really do seem to specialise in this area, and good on them for doing so. The 1007 qualifies for being brand-consistent (it’s a small car, a Peugeot speciality) and highly relevant (it solves usability problems in cities). However, some people don’t want their problems solving that much. You sometimes find this phenomenon in ergonomics – what looks weird from a design point of view may work best, but be rejected for the way it looks.

    I found another example from (excellent) US website, Curbside Classics. The article concerns the failure of an advanced GM truck. Ultimately, all the market wanted was something cheap, familiar and good-looking, not something clever. GM is a company which seems to have experimented periodically, and sometimes got burned when doing so.

    https://www.curbsideclassic.com/curbside-classics-american/truckstop-classics-1959-1961-gmc-dfr-8000-and-dlr-8000-crackerbox-gm-builds-the-most-advanced-semi-truck-in-the-world-for-three-years/

    Richard – those were great articles, and thank you for looking. They weren’t the one I was thinking of, though. I thought there was an article about a period of one’s life seeming more ‘genuine’ than others, and this fading over time. It was a short article, but had some pretty complex academic / philosophical text supporting it.

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