The Romance of car brands faces reality

To sell a car in the 1980s, dealers had to do little more than open their doors, and loyal buyers would show up to trade in their Chevrolet for a new Chevrolet, or their Toyota for another Toyota.

Nearly four in five Americans were repeat buyers back then, staunchly faithful to brands that they knew, trusted and were part of their self-image. The allegiance often continued through generations of families, like party affiliations in politics.

Now, partly as a result of increasingly fickle consumer tastes and the industry turmoil in Detroit, that hard-won loyalty is largely gone.

So far this year, only about 20 percent of car shoppers stayed with the same brand when they purchased a new vehicle, according to a study by the Oregon-based firm CNW Marketing Research.

As a result, the industry is seeing the kind of churn it hasn’t witnessed since Japanese manufacturers began making inroads in the American market more than 30 years ago…

Just five years ago, Chevrolet and Ford sat comfortably atop the United States market, each with more than a 16 percent share. Chrysler had three brands — Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep — in the top 10.

Today, the Toyota brand leads the pack with slightly more than 14 percent, followed by Ford, Chevrolet, and the Honda and Nissan brands. The Chrysler brand and G.M.’s soon-to-be-discontinued Pontiac brand have fallen out of the Top 10 — replaced by two South Korean brands, Hyundai and Kia.

Today, people are very focused on value,” said Jeremy Anwyl, president of the car-research Web site Edmunds.com…

That change in the marketplace goes back to the arrival of the Japanese. Now, other Asian manufacturers – soon to be followed by more – arrive with the same ethic.

It took U.S. manufacturers years to lose the foolishness of planned obsolescence. Most U.S. consumers figured that crap out before they did.

There still are fools who prate about cheap Chinese this-or-that as they did about flimsy Japanese this-or-that. But, anyone who buys a brand-name TV set or computer has already made a decision that took them beyond politically-satisfying myths.

Google’s “Caffeine” looks like it will be Google GTI

google gti

Google has unveiled a new version of its search engine which it says will be faster and more accurate than ever before.

The upgrade, which insiders have dubbed “caffeine”, was announced on Monday after the company opened up access to web developers. It is intended to replace the technology giant’s main search engine after tests have been completed.

Although little about the surface appearance of the new version has changed, engineers promised that radical changes behind the scenes would vast improvements for ordinary users…

The company claims that significant changes to the way the system works will improve the experience for users – although it will also send shockwaves through the community of marketers who try and optimise their results to appear higher up in Google’s index…

Caffeine allows Google to index the web at a higher pace – gathering more information and doing it faster – but the company’s search quality specialist, Matt Cutts, rejected claims that it was developed in response to the actions of rivals.

“I love competition in search and want lots of it, but this change has been in the works for months,” he wrote on his blog. I think the best way for Google to do well in search is to continue what we’ve done for the last decade or so: focus relentlessly on pushing our search quality forward.”

Whether the upgrade will have a significant impact on Google’s business has yet to emerge, but Martin McNulty, director of search marketing specialist Trafficbroker, said that it could give it a significant boost.

“Google’s Caffeine is undoubtedly faster, almost twice as fast at times. It’s like a Google Gti,” he said.

Rock on, Google!

Quality always supersedes speed on my own desktop. Add new speed as an additional quality and a winner becomes harder to catch.

GM’s sale of Saab to Koenigsegg gets the green light


SAAB Turbo-Hybrid E85 concept

General Motors has reached a tentative agreement to sell Saab to the Swedish sports car manufacturer Koenigsegg.

GM said that as part of the deal there would be $600m (£367m) of funding from the European Investment Bank (EIB), guaranteed by the Swedish government.

It is the latest part of GM’s reorganisation, which is also set to see the Opel and Vauxhall brands going to Canada’s Magna…

Koenigsegg produces 18 cars a year and employs 45 people, and there has been some doubt as to whether it has the expertise to run Saab, which sold 93,000 cars in 2008.

Saab employs about 3,400 people in Sweden and about 12,000 other jobs in the country are dependent on Saab and its suppliers.

But GM Europe’s president Carl-Peter Forster said: “Koenigsegg Group’s unique combination of innovation, entrepreneurial spirit and financial strength… made it the right choice for Saab as well as for General Motors”.

The Swedish government has been keen to avoid bailing out its carmakers as long as they are owned by US parent companies.

That’s no surprise is it?

I haven’t posted on the rumors because I didn’t think Koenigsegg could pull it off. Their core investor is an industrial design firm, Baard Eker, also talented and stylish.

Personally, I’d love to see the other half of the original dangerous duo from Sweden back on the streets and highways. SAAB has the world of experience, tradition of building solid, safe motor vehicles – often advanced because of their aerospace roots.

The biggest toy story in the world


Daylife/Reuters Pictures

It’s quite easy, wandering round the small town of Billund, to start believing in the existence of a Lego god. You can’t help but feel a master intelligence is at work here – the place is so manifestly wholesome, the street plan so well ordered, the pavements so tidy. Unostentatious automobiles proceed slowly along all-but-empty roads, stopping politely for pedestrians nowhere near a zebra crossing. A jovial red-and-yellow Lego giant points towards the town centre; huge coloured bricks lie scattered as if awaiting deployment in some exemplary new civic amenity (except that, being Denmark, it’s not immediately apparent what else the town might need).

I half-expect to be plucked from the pavement, brushed up a bit and plumped down in front of the smart rectangular building labelled Head Office: Lego A/S. My goal here is to find out how, in the teeth of global recession and barely five years since it was being read the last rites, one of the world’s best-loved brands has come back from the dead. For Lego, born of an earlier and tougher depression, is positively revelling in this one: the little studded, primary-coloured bricks are selling like never before. In Britain alone, the company’s turnover last year was up 51%.

Its home town, though, is a bit too much for some people. “I couldn’t ever live here,” admits Mads Nipper, who looks and – when it comes to plastic bricks – acts about 12, but turns out to be one of the company’s executive vice-presidents. “I’m nuts about Lego, believe me; I eat, sleep and breathe the stuff. But there’s a bit too much of it around here even for me.”

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