So instead, I will just post this haiku:
GM US sales dropped 18% in june.
Toyota US sales dropped 21% in June.
More imagination is needed.
With every car and truck and van in the US looking essentially the same and absolutely no effort whatsoever by major car manufacturers to create sexy, well-designed, fuel-efficient, compact cars to give the overpriced mini Cooper and gender-limited VW Bug a run for their money, we are left with a sea of cars no one wants.
Problem #1: Wallet share is tight. Buying a new car in the current economy is already a tough proposition.
Problem #2: Buying a car is an investment. Resale values of vehicles with weak mileage efficiency are dropping fast. Investing in a car today with gas prices looking the way they do (+ market insecurity) means consumers aren’t likely to fork out big bucks for a new car anytime soon.
Problem #3: Our “bigger is better” supersize-me attitude needs to change. The days of the macho-by-horsepower association are coming to a close. Deal with it.
Problem #4: Auto manufacturers are not reacting quickly enough to the oil crisis. (As if it wasn’t always coming. Didn’t anyone have a Plan-B? Really?)
Problem #5: Most cars don’t have a purpose or an identity. Nissan’s X-Terra’s success 8 years ago was due to the fact that it had a very clear place in the pantheon of vehicles. Same with the H2, the Mini Cooper, and the VW bug. Today’s contenders are Toyota’s FJ Cruiser and to some extent the H3, but that’s about it. Every other SUV is just another copy of a copy of a copy. Ford’s Mustang GT fills the muscle car void fairly well, but we aren’t exactly talking middle of the bell curve here. Crossovers are a nice concept, but I have a tough time getting excited by any new design – they’re all the same. Ergo: I’m bored just trying to think of an interesting or unique car i am jonesing for under $30K.
There is a clear absence of imagination in the auto industry, at least in the US. derivative designs create an “also-in” design culture that offers no clear value to anyone. Sure, I can get excited about Aston Martin or Bugati’s latest supercars, but when I look at cars I can actually afford – the middle of the bell curve – what am I left with? Where is the sexy, smart, well designed sub-$20K car with great gas mileage and suite of electronic interfaces I have been asking for? Where are my power outlets for laptops and media player recharges? (Real outlets, not cigarette lighter outlets.) Where is my built-in hands-free system for my phone? Where is my media player plug-in?
I’m not saying that we should all adopt the euro supercompact-car concept (although if you live in the city, don’t have any kids, and absolutely need a car, perhaps you should consider one), but there is a healthy compromise that can be met. Why is it that we aren’t seeing it yet? Every compact car on the market that isn’t a mini or a bug is manufactured on the cheap and designed on the quick. This needs to change.
Cars should always be cool. They should always be more than just a set of wheels to go to work or to the store. I’m not sure when the industry shifted to a zero personality model, but auto makers need to turn this around. Cars with personalities sell. Period. They sell because they stand for something. They help their owners express who they are. Identity development needs to become part of every new car design – not just at the brand level (a BMW is a BMW /a Mercedes is a Mercedes) but at the level of the individual model. Scion has adopted the concept 100%, but its designs look like someone got a hold of ten-year-old early concept drafts from 2-3 automakers and actually turned them into production cars without making any changes. (Right idea: Unique models for unique uses, but horrible execution: Not a whole lot of curb appeal, and heinously derivative designs.)
Is it really THAT hard to get this right?
Here’s what the next big auto hit looks like:
1. It has so much personality, it could be a Mac. (Sorry, I’m supposed to be the PC guy, but we all know where “cool” lives these days.)
2. It looks GREAT. Not just good, but GREAT. People want to rent it from hertz and budget and Avis. Your friends want to drive it when you show it off at your next together. People on the street stare at it when you drive by.
3. The interior is a mix between the cockpit of a 1930’s rallye speedster and the cabin of a brand spanking new custom Leer jet.
4. Real power outlets. Media player interfaces. Hands free wireless interface. Just do it.
5. MPG superstar status. Make it part of the car’s identity. Not an afterthought, but at the very core of the car’s purpose.
6. $12K-$18K is the sweet spot. It’s a compact.
7. But make it look, feel and perform like a $30K+ car.
8. Invent something smarter than a cool cup holder. Like a built-in passive cabin ventilation system for really hot summer days. Or a slot for a portable hard drive inside the dashboard. Or a fully insulated trunk compartment for laptops, cameras and other electronics. Or accessible + concealable storage compartments for passengers. Or a new seat adjustment interface. Or yeah… a better cup holder.
Europeans have been designing very cool, high performance compact cars for decades. Look to Renault, Citroen, Opel and Peugeot, for starters. Even mercedes sells compact cars in Europe now.
Think, guys. Dream a little. Invent something that brings value to the market. More importantly, make your brand, your designs and your every conversation with us, the people who should be dreaming about driving your cars, stand for something. Give us something to desire and crave and get excited about.
A 20% drop in sales might be great for your car lease units, but that isn’t where you want to be. Wake up and do something.