THE AUTOEXTREMIST BRAND IMAGE METER VIII: THE THROW ME A FRICKIN’ BONE EDITION.
DateMONDAY, JUNE 3, 2019 AT 09:20AM
By Peter M. DeLorenzo
Detroit. Yes, it’s that time of year again, when Brand Wranglers throughout the Autoverse quake in their bespoke marketing boots dreading our annual Brand Image Meter ratings. I imagine that it’s like waiting for a root canal appointment: You know it’s coming but there’s not a damn thing you can do about it. As for the weasels and wankers who are riding a perpetually weak brand hand – you know who you are – it must be a particularly Bad Day. Ah well, who said life in the auto biz was going to be all bunny rabbits and rainbows, right?
But before we get started, I have been inundated by requests for my take on the potential FCA-Renault merger. As I said last week in “On the Table,” does FCA need a merger? Absolutely. It can’t subsist on Jeeps, Ram trucks and hot rods alone. Don’t think so? Jeep sales are already softening because of FCA’s relentless greed. The Jeep option list – which is an homage to Porsche marketers, the OGs of Greed – creatively gouges customers in the interest of considerable short-term profits, but long-term that pricing strategy will hurt the company. In fact, it already has. And sure, Ram trucks are hot and the muscle-flexing hot rods and police cars keep getting churned out, but beyond that, what?
While FCA has been basking in profits, the company is nowhere with advanced technology. As in, they got nothin’. So, in order to survive, some sort of merger or sellout was always in the offing. Let’s not forget the fact that Sergio was consumed with bamboozling another car company into making a deal with him. GM wouldn’t bite, and VW would only consider it on its terms, which didn’t interest the G.O.A.T. at all. But suffice to say, Sergio knew that FCA couldn’t survive long term in its present state.
But Renault? What sort of fresh Hell is this? Add the perpetual losers at Nissan and throw Mitsubishi into the mix, and you have a bouillabaisse of Not Good. I have read all of the gleeful hand-wringing about this deal, and I must say that most of it starts from the conceit that this deal is a done deal. Why that take is even out there, given the players involved, is beyond me. There are so many variables going into this deal that any shred of optimism should be tabled as soon as possible.
Yes, of course Nissan is crowing “What, us worry?” about the deal, seeing no problem whatsoever, but then again, what do you expect that company to say? After all, it is literally and figuratively on the ropes and completely out of ideas, so a merger sounds just wonderful to them. (Although everyone seems to be saying that Nissan has the technological component that will make the deal strong. Really? We’ll see about that.) And, Mitsubishi? It will go along for the ride too. But Renault has myriad problems that seem to be unending, and any cost slashing promised with this deal remains dubious.
So, the idea that this merger will be a walk in the park is naïve at best, especially given the players involved. There are just too many egos, too many loose ends and too many flies in the ointment to say the least. As I said last week, this is a giant “we’ll see” and let’s leave it at that.
Back to the subject at hand. There’s a reason our Brand Image Meter issue is one of our most-anticipated and widely read columns of the year. Brand image wrangling is the mystery science that brings out the best – and worst – in auto executives, with some being naturally savvy stewards of their brands, while others stumble around lost in the desert, achieving only fleeting success. The rest? Well, to say they well and truly suck at it is being kind.
If we were a certain kind of publication, our Brand Image awards would come complete with glittery trophies and massive publicity campaigns attached, and we would be Ka-Chinging a happy tune as auto companies advertised their success to the world, with the Autoextremist brand logo prominently displayed in those ads. But we’re not slimy purveyors of vacuous marketing streams, thank goodness. We are, however, confident in the knowledge that the AE Brand Image Meter column is in the top three in unique visitors and page views each and every year that we have presented it, garnishing loads of buzz and in some cases, voluminous and pitiful “woe is me” and "we're screwed" hand-wringing in executive suites throughout the industry. And beginning our 21st year of publication, that’s not about to change.
As I said when we first introduced our Brand Image Meter seven years ago, when it comes to the power of brands and the inescapable importance of brand image: “It’s the one thing that car companies – both good and bad – cannot escape. How a brand is perceived can make or break a car company, regardless of how long and illustrious a run that brand has enjoyed up until any given point in time, because one false move or one discordant note can be crippling in a matter of months.”