It was deja vu all over again this past weekend, as I sat reading the local newspaper. The frontpage headline read, “Car Dealers Say Small Car is Way of the Future.” It seems that with gas prices hell-bent for leather racing toward $100 a barrel, people are ditching their trucks, SUV’s and other large vehicles for more economical transportation.
For those of you old enough to remember tie dye and bell bottoms, that headline should sound familiar... harkening back to about 30 years ago and our first gasoline crisis. (Yes, Virginia, there really were lines around the block, and filling up on “even or odd” days, depending on the last number of your license plate). At the time, American automakers scrambled to introduce economy models they hoped would compete with that new kid in town, the Honda Civic... the Chevette, the Pacer and the Vega to name a few. Ah yes, history does repeat itself.
So fortuitous the time was, then, that I also received a note from Sandra Kinsler, editor-in-chief of WomanMotorist.com. Apparently she’d been doing some Googling and found my blog post from last year, commenting on her taking GM to task for ignoring the needs of the consumer, especially female consumers. She writes:
"In 2002 (maybe '03) I spoke to Gary Cowger -- then heading GM in the US -- at the New York Auto Show and told him how badly his company was doing with both women car shoppers and the women's media. I explained, that as an economist -- my degree is from UCLA -- that any company not effectively marketing to the majority of the buyers of a product type spells disaster for a company. Low and behold GM is experiencing financial free-fall. A significant contribution to this is GM's inability to sell to women, maintain their loyalty and build products they want to own. GM is targeting women with their Pontiac product line, and what they sell are ugly, outdated and poorly constructed products that women should not take the risk to own. The competitive products from Toyota and Honda are much better and safer choices.
GM is not the only culprit. Ford and Chrysler have done abysmal jobs marketing to women and attracting the attention of automotive journalists targeting the women's market. Their earnings reflect this. Moreover Ford is now targeting women with their Lincoln and Mercury products. Lincolns are big, gas guzzling, expensive vehicles that look cool but don't serve any purpose in a modern American home. No one should be buying huge SUVs at this time, unless they REALLY need them. Neither the Lincoln nor the Mercury products have good reliability ratings and both miss the mark on design to meet women's needs and desire for forward-thinking design. The 2007 Mercury Milan -- which I have just test driven -- is a poor attempt to apply European styling to an American design. The interior is sloppy and cumbersome. After all this time there is no reason, whatsoever, for Ford's inability to design competitors to the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. No reason at all.
The bottom line for me, is that most of the automakers do a dismal job of marketing to women. They are smug, believe their own PR, and blame their failure on the competition and the medical insurance they have to pay for their works. That's hooey, if you ask me.
If they built great cars women that wanted to own, at plants in the US, like many of their competitors, they would be equally as successful."
Back in the 1970’s, American automakers were pretty quick on the draw when it came to finding a solution to what had been until then the American “give me that Lincoln Continental” way of life. There must have been fewer managerial layers back then, allowing engineers to design and create exactly what the public needed. What I wonder now is... do they have the fast turnaround time required to reinvent themselves? Can management get out of the way and let the engineers do what they do best? My fear is the answer is no.
Surely there should be one American car manufacturer out there that has the cojones to step up to the plate and swing for the fences. Toyota is doing it with the Prius and the newly-introduced Yaris. Hummer is even doing it, with an ad campaign that speaks to the motivations of young mothers and engines capable of running on ecologically friendly biodiesel. And that new Acura RL I just purchased? Gets even better mileage than my old CL... and a gold standard warranty to die for.
Sandra added a P.S. to her letter:
P.S. Anyone want to start a discussion about how women will be the early adopters and purchasing leaders in the hybrid-fuel vehicle market? Women alone can solve the foreign-oil dependence issue.
What do you think? All comments welcome.