Bad brand manager! Bad boy!

by Rob Rutkowski on July 5, 2010

1958 Edsel
Image by dok1 via Flickr

Despite an automotive armageddon not seen since, um, ever, there are still hundreds of models of automobiles available.  Many of them make no sense to me.  (Is this why I’m a blogger and not a brand manager?  Hmmm.)

Regardless, here are the current WTF moments in auto manufacturing. Disagree?  Hit the comments section at the bottom.


BMW x6

In a word, WHY?  The X6 is so far flung of the spiritual zenmaster of all BMWs, the 2002.  It weighs as much as my backyard.  It seems like two different cars attached at the waist.  It’s flagrantly wasteful (especially the M version). What the hell is this thing?

Yet I see dozens of these flogging the pristine roads of Newport Beach, cheek-kissing the  Mercedes S-classes at stoplights.  Yuck.

As a past owner of a terrific E36 M and a locomotive force of a Dinan5, this trucklet is an abomination.  Which of course means they’ll sell faster than free beer.

BMW 550 Gran Turismo

Only thing uglier (and ironically, making MUCH more sense): the 5 series Gran Turismo (left).  Nobody is going to buy this one.

Can America just get over our nightmarish Ford County Squire collective memory and decide we can handle wagons again?  It would solve so much.

Aptera 2e

Aptera 2e

A high tech turd with landing gear. Here’s a car (and that’s a stretch) conceived by a very clever couple of engineers with not the slightest tethering of earth bound business sense between them.  The Aptera is so far north of anything a human being would actually spend money on, it defies explanation.

There are so many problems here, one doesn’t know where to start, but let’s try anyway:

The management: The same guy who ran Saleen into the ditch made a soft landing at Aptera.  He brought along a short egomaniac for marketing manager from Chrysler (because when you think successful car company, who else?) and has proceeded to add YEARS of delays to the initial release of the car.  Nice.

The sales: Or more accurately, the complete and utter lack thereof.  Aptera, founded in 2002, has not sold car one.  I was told by one of the VPs that Aptera boasts over 4,000 deposits on new orders (of, are you ready? $99 each).  Most of those came in over two years ago.  Meantime, Aptera survives (barely) on traunch payments from initial investors Google, IdeaLab and Essenjay.  Those are fun capital calls, I promise you.

The product: Remember the thrill of driving a VW 21-window van?  Your limbs dangling helplessly off the front ledge of a barely controlled accident?  The only crash protection in the form of a huge logo where a motor should be?  At least you sat above all the Ford Country Squires (hey, two references!) and Vegas, giving you a fighting chance.  Now, take all that joy and lower yourself to Lotus Elan height, keep that rear engine layout and lose on entire wheel.  Wha?

Porsche Cayenne

Porsche Cayenne

Ya, I know.  This one has been spanked before.  It looks like a tumor.  It’s take a big dump on the Porsche brand.  And it inhales dinosaur juice as if that is its only purpose.  Yet it outsells Boxsters, Caymens and 911’s all day long.  Between the Cayenne and the new Panamera, it seems likely 911’s will eventually be maintained only by renegade wrench twisters in a Mad Max afterlife of post fun-car apocalypse.

Chevy Tahoe/Silverado

Chevy Tahoe

This one must give brand managers fits.  A full sized SUV that gets 21 actual miles per gallon?  That’s better than my Honda Accord!  If you’re a working man, the Silverado pickup boasts identical numbers.

Think this is another GM half bake?  Think again.  It’s a highly sophisticated two mode hybrid system using a CV transmission, two electric motors, one V8, some half shafts and probably a Cray computer or two.  It’s so good, Porsche uses the entire system (minus the engine) for their Cayenne Hybrid.  That bears repeating: the best engineers in the world figured they couldn’t do better than the hybrid from Detroit. Props, people!

Yet — nobody buys these.  I can’t figure it out. Maybe some psychological issue of consumers, big SUVs and string theory, but the Tahoe Hybrid makes about the most sense of any vehicle in America.

My Insightful Conclusion

Here’s why none of my pithy comments make any difference: Asia.  That’s what car companies are thinking about.  80% of all Buicks (a dead-and-gone brand in the US) are sold in China.  Middle Eastern buyers could care less about a 12 mpg Cayenne Turbo S, as long as the air conditioning kicks ass.

The US still consumes millions of cars, but as a trend for the automakers to cater to, we’re so yesterday.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

buzz July 16, 2010 at 12:38 pm

Uh, somewhat wrong on the Aptera;
First off, “business sense”?? That term’s gotten as oxymoronic as military intelligence. True, the Aptera founders had no automotive production sense. But they designed built and tested a car that was safe (yes F1 crash cage safe), and the most efficient car on the planet. They got 4000 people to drop $500 deposit (not $99 as stated) sight unseen. I’d say they had a good idea, and good execution up to the prototype stage when the BOD (you know , the folks with “business sense”) brought in the Detroit dripsacks. You got that part right!


Robert Fierce July 16, 2010 at 12:54 pm

Duly noted on the $500 deposit. I will give them credit for getting 4,000 of these deposits, but only as much credit as I would give a televangelist.

And I’ll concede they have (had?) a good idea, but in the end, they’ve missed countless deadlines in putting an actual product on the road. Perhaps they’ve been a bit ambitious, but kit car companies seem to get designs out the door. Why can’t Aptera? Heck, the thing doesn’t even have to be a real car (it’s technically a motorcycle). Drivetrains of all stripes are available. What gives?

As a guy whose company has to deliver service before we get paid, I have very little patience for taking, what, 5 years of OPM (other people’s money) without a single deliverable?

Anyway, thanks for the comments. Who else?


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