Car Industry Chronicles
When Automakers Deserve Dual Citizenship
Empathy and effort have made companies like Buick and Fiat adopt a second home country over the years
- Some automakers work harder than usual for regional customers
- When they appreciate that effort, the relationship quickly spirals up
- Fiat has just taken its own with Brazilians to yet another level
Most companies use their nationality to help establish their public image. They often rely on the respective country’s positive stereotypes to make people believe that those will be extended to its products. For example, Italian companies will be passionate, French ones will be sophisticated, German ones will be precise… Some countries have become international symbols of that.
Automakers sell very expensive products which will be used for years, so they have to do whatever they can to keep their customer, more than simply attract them. When it comes to making them want their car models, some companies have gone so far to understand and support them that they’ve ended up being rewarded with a much deeper level of connection than what’s seen in general.
Would you give some examples?
One of the oldest carmakers still active, Buick takes the intermediate position at GM’s portfolio alone, since it no longer directly competes with Oldsmobile, Pontiac and Saturn. In nowadays, it keeps a safe distance from Chevrolet and Cadillac through less extravagant design and, until the 2000s, the tendency to offer large sedans and SUVs following stereotypical North-American concepts.
Things changed with the 2008 financial crisis. GM’s reorganization put much more effort into Buick because its success in China made it a core brand in the company. The local branch developed more exclusive models, such as the GL8 minivan, and got to the point of exporting the Envision to Buick’s home land. Its global lineup is currently formed by North-American and Chinese models.
What else can you mention?
Asian companies used the 1970s crisis to enter North America. Their compact, fuel-efficient models affected the local competitors enough to encourage huge changes on how cars were created there. However, the foreigners also learned a lot with that society and continuously improved their local lineup. Naturally, that process led to completely different car models from those offered in Asia.
Even though Honda, Hyundai, Mitsubishi and Nissan have also had success in the region, one can say Toyota gets the gold medal. Its list of famous cars goes from the 4Runner SUV to the Supra sports coupé and includes nothing but the long-time best-seller Camry. Even its high-luxury brand, Lexus, has performed better than rivals Acura and Infiniti. Talk about being accepted by the locals!
Asia, North America… What next?
Ford’s European arm has been independent from the beginning — considering that the British, German and Irish divisions were separately strong, maybe too independent. They merged in 1967 to give birth to Ford of Europe, whose first car was the Escort. While it was offered in the whole region, they took time to unify: one segment above, there were a British Cortina and a German Taunus.
The new division would only become stronger. Models like Capri and Fiesta at first and Sierra and Scorpio later contributed each one in its own way to make it a true contender for the native ones. The models were so different from the North-Americans that it was hard to make them prosper abroad: Fiesta and F-150 are best-sellers in each one’s own region but no longer exist in the other.
Now, this Chronicle’s star
We mentioned that in 2017: Fiat’s effort to understand Brazilians and actually cater to their needs has led not only to an exclusive lineup with locally-created models but also a very strong image there despite being a generalist company that used to focus on small, entry-level cars. Now, it was revealed that the new Strada was only the spearhead of a whole new phase for the Brazilian branch.
In short, it’ll enhance the half Italian, half Brazilian character it’s built over 44 years in the country. More than simply offering bolder models in more market segments, like the long-awaited crossover, it’s becoming bolder itself: dealers and repair shops will be more welcoming, the clothing line was recreated, and the 1990s logo came back in the Italian colors to be used with the current one.
Those are all amazing stories!
Investing that much in a given region is an excellent strategy because it speaks to everyone. Conservative customers get the feeling that the company is really committed to the country, so they feel encouraged to keep buying car after car from the same. Innovative ones, in turn, are thrilled by seeing the company go the extra mile to understand their wishes instead of offering generic products.
Since only the most populous countries are influential enough to render those strategies worthwhile, many of them are adapted to be valid for entire regions like South America or the United Kingdom. What other cases like those do you know? Are there other companies in your country which came to deserve that sort of second citizenship somewhere? Share your ideas through a comment!