If you want to build a brand identity, listen to the children
We’re lucky in this lark in that we get to test multiple cars. During the weird times of 2020, that’s meant that more metal has turned up at our homes, which is like manna from heaven for my two sons.
The offerings this week and their reaction to them has been interesting: there’s Steve Cropley’s BMW 235i long-term test car and a Volkswagen Tiguan. Both are shiny and new, and yet all the boys want to do is get in Daddy’s new racing car. They haven’t even batted an eye at the Tiguan.
(As an aside, I should point out here that their reaction isn’t a verdict on my driving: they’re four and three, so any fast-looking car is a racing car. Last week, a Renault Mégane 140 TCe was a fast car because it was blue.)
Anyway, I digress. The point I’m trying to make is that I think manufacturers should be careful with their product planning. SUVs might be the cash cow of the moment, but beware the potential damage being done to brand identity and desirability in the eyes of tomorrow’s consumers. Cars need soul and an identity. Building monobox SUVs, all run off the same platform, is possibly not the way to do this.
I know this isn’t easy. Think back just 15 years and all a manufacturer really needed to worry about was a diesel engine and a petrol engine. Now, there are self-charging hybrids, plug-in hybrids, electric cars, the odd rare hydrogen car, LPG if you want to get really left-field, plus the ever more stringent regs on petrol and diesel. The irony, of course, is that all this seemingly increasing amount of choice comes at the cost of variety that you can see and feel.
Coupés are disappearing faster than the alcohol at a post-lockdown party, while the manual gearbox is heading for the great scrapheap in the sky.
I understand that we’ve all got to change and adapt. But if this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that humans thrive on touch and feel. Cars are meant to be desirable, and without the sort of halo, ‘daddy racing cars’ that coupés and the like provide, children will grow up thinking of cars as white goods. None of us win in that situation.