Thursday, October 05, 2006

Brands brands, who's got the brands? Thoughts on the latest edition of Autoline Detroit...

On Sunday morning while many are in church, and still others are watching the different current afairs discusions shows such as Face the Nation, I'm usually having my coffee watching Autoline Detroit the show "Of, By and For the Auto Industry" hosted by John McElroy. And luckily I Tivo it if I miss it. And this past Sunday's show was very interesting. Now if you don't already watch I strongly suggest you check your local listings for the SPEED Channel or visit the link in the title of this post.
This week, they talked to one of the authors of Branding Iron available through Amazon or B&N online. I'm going to order my copy today.
Charles Hughes, picture here with his then boss Mark Fields has been all over the auto industry in the US, including several Ford brands (Mazda and Land Rover) so it's assumed he knows what he's talking about. He didn't sound like an idiot or a fool, even if I didn't agree with 100% of what he was saying, I was impressed.
The Co-Author is William Jeanes formerly of Car and Driver. One of the few Car and Driver writers, besides Csaba Csere, that I liked. Another guy in the know.
And while the book doesn't focus on Ford alone, the comments on Sunday's show were. Mr Hughes thinks that Ford Globaly but most importantly in North America has too many brands. The way he sees it they only need 3 Ford ,Volvo and Jaguar. Now he never specifically mentioned Mazda as a "brand" to be discarded, and since FoMoCo doesn't actually "own" Mazda, but only a controlling interest, I assume he wasn't including Mazda in this discussion. So the brands that Mr Hughes sees as dead or dying are; Lincoln, Mercury, Land Rover and Aston Martin. So, of course here's my humble opinion on that situation.

Mercury is dead, it just doesn't know it, it's a brand that lost relevance from day one. as I said many times while some fans would miss Mercury FoMoCo will not. Some may disagree, but it's a sad truth.

Lincoln is dying, but there's enough meat on the bone to try and revive the brand. But is it worth it? Couldn't Lincoln be folded into Ford or revamped? It's going to take more effort than FoMoCo has shown. A new Town Car based on the Australian Ford Falcon and maybe a new CUV based on the Territory might help. But status quo won't hold off the grim reaper and the MKZ MKX and MKS aren't the answer, not even in the short term.

Jaguar? I'm still undecided here, without some new models I don't think so. Either sell it or rework it into a new company with Land Rover.

Land Rover? Well it's a natural thought to consolidate it into Jaguar in my opinion. But it's a brand that is global, and has a lot of cache. Probably better to sell it than fold it. Or keep it, but I'll follow up on this.

Aston Martin? Well, many enthusiasts will hate me for this, but kill it or sell it off quick. As far as I'm concerned they're just really expensive Jaguars anyway. Definitely not worth keeping, or spending any momey on, better to sell to the highest bidder.

Volvo, is a keeper, a premium European brand that pulls it's own weight and is the step up from Ford for customers in global markets. Don't mess with Volvo or dare to sell it off, no mater what Nissan/Renault offer. There's too much potential here to give up.

Mazda, well lets not be stupid, this is a brand that is doing well, and has potential to do much better. While Toyota, Honda and Hyundai are the shining stars of Asia, Mazda has been growing slowly and proven itself too valuable an asset to even think of altering. With so much engineering shared with Mazda, if anything Ford should increase their stake in Mazda, maybe buy it outright.

Ford brand is and always will be the crown jewel brand of FoMoCo. This is their bread and butter with the Trucks, SUVs and new CUVs, this is where the money was made to buy or create all the others. There's lots of potential here. Oh, and bring me my Reflex quick!

Now while I see killing Mercury and Possibly Lincoln, selling off Aston Martin and possibly Jaguar or Land Rover as options, I also see other oportunities. Here's one scenario, consolidate Jaguar, Range Rover into one company and bring the Rover name back. Ford recently exercised their option to buy the name, presumably to preserve the "good name" of Land Rover. Preventing the Chinese firm from using the name. A new Jaguar/Land Rover/Rover group could be streamlined in management and be an arm to enter new markets like China, Russia and Japan to European and Australian Ford based models. Or the whole package could be sold. In my opinion, the three give a broader range and help support each other. Ford should have learned when they brought out the Jaguar X-Type, that entry level luxury is a slippery slope. The same car badged as a Rover would have been a better sell. You could even fold Aston Martin into this group, and either sell it or try and make is work.

I could see Rover replacing Mercury in the US, being populated by European Fords like the Mondeo, S-Max, Ka and Fiesta.
I've said it before, Ford has some great brands and models world wide. It's been at the forefront on technology breakthroughs over the years. There's a reason they do so well globally, outside of Dearborn there is hope, people who know how to react to market changes. While the F-Series trucks paid for all the "jewelry" brands, FoMoCo needs to start thinking of what to do, sell the jewels or make them shine.

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