No. 933
February 14, 2018

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The fabulous Wright Brothers.

Maybe everybody else knows this. I’m reading David McCullough’s excellent book about the Wright Brothers. So: Americans ruled Le Mans well before Ford in the ‘60’s. In 1908 the Wright Brothers did their initial European flight testing at the horse track that is now in the middle of the Le Mans circuit. The French press and some fliers were dissing the Wrights because they had not done much flying that year and none in Europe. The Wrights worked at their own speed and didn’t fly until they were completely prepared. They were aiming at European sales and wanted to put on the best demonstration they could.

When they did fly they blew away any other results by the French (or anybody else to that point). The Wright flight controls were superior to any other planes and they could do maneuvers the others could only dream of. This was when a figure eight was a big deal. The French reception was overwhelming and the Wrights were treated like royalty and superstars; they were mobbed everywhere they went. To their credit the French press and fliers were equally generous in their praise, many reversing their earlier criticisms.

I see the Wrights’ achievement as one of the greatest in American history. They weren’t degreed engineers, but they acted like it. When accepted theory didn’t work they developed their own technology, experimented, took data and applied it. Perhaps their greatest development was the propeller.

Rochester, New York

More Tesla smoke and mirrors.

I was reading another website and Tesla is aiming to sell 100k class 8 truck tractors? No mention of the lack of charging infrastructure required to keep the rigs on the road. I would think since Tesla is unable to produce the Model 3 for anywhere near its projected price and losing money at an alarming rate that the automotive press would stop listening. It never seems to be the case. It's as though Elon has cast a spell over them (investors too!). If an established manufacturer was making such outlandish claims and losing money at such a prodigious rate, the press would bury them and their stock prices would be in the tank. I'm very surprised that Tesla has kept the ball in the air as long as they have. I guess it's not a lie as long as he (Musk) believes it!

Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania 


I’m sure you have already seen it, but if not I really liked the McLaren documentary and highly recommend it to any body in the racing world at any level. It really takes you back to a time when people were racing for the pureness of the sport, when people raced for the greatness of racing. Before twenty-year-olds thought getting signed to a big money deal and a house on Lake Norman is all that mattered. Back in the day sponsors were about building better mousetraps and just keeping everybody going until the next challenge... 

Jim Haines
McLean, Virginia


Mediocrity is bliss for some.

My wife and I visited NorCal a few years ago. We rented a Nissan, whatever their small car is. It wasn't disappointing, but it wasn't exciting either. It didn't do anything badly, or anything particularly well. It was “okay”, the equivalent of Light beer. A lot of people seem to like that sort of thing.
Kevin Kovach
Allen Park, Michigan


Adapt or... Why?

This week’s Rant was great with interesting points as always, but a couple particularly struck me:

“…the cold, ugly reality for the Stinger is that it exists in its own hermetically sealed vacuum within Kia, and because of that it can’t possibly carry the water for the brand. Can we expect that from this day forward all new Kia models will have a little bit of Stinger in them like a true “halo” marketing plan is supposed to work? Uh, how about no?”

Seems to me you could (should?) replace the respective pronouns with “Corvette” and “Chevrolet”. For the life of me I have always wondered what the Corvette is supposed to accomplish for Chevy, never more than recently with the interminable “real people who never would have guessed!” ad tripe. The closest “Corvette aspirationally elevates the rest of Chevy’s lineup” was the debut commercial for the Cobalt, where it cheekily taunts a parked Corvette. Hmm… can’t buy a Cobalt today can we, and aren’t most of Chevy’s compacts more Korean in DNA?

But as a Ford Guy, I’ll give Chevy credit because Ford is absolutely inept with aspirational marketing. The GT is so out of touch and unobtanium it doesn’t count; the Mustang is not a Corvette, and the various SVO/SVT/SHO/ST/RS branding I’ve seen in my lifetime is downright schizophrenic. Although I guess that’s because Ford inevitably follows up success over-reaching into disastrous unreliability, and has to change it again. But, they’ve not been too keen to kill the golden Raptor eggs yet, so maybe there is hope as long as you want a Bro Truck. If you want an honest car, well, I guess they do that but there’s nothing exciting about marketing honesty, is there? Is that even a thing, or is that too close to the oxymoron of “honest marketing”?

The second point: “[Subaru] is celebrating 50 years of selling vehicles in the U.S. To say that the brand’s success has been meteoric really isn’t accurate. Its growth has been slow but steady… …the other […] auto brands should pay attention to what Subaru is doing, because it’s simply how it’s done when it comes to automotive marketing.”

BAHAHAHA with all due respect, and not to disagree with your point, how is could that ever work when “brands” are figureheads beholden to the egomaniacal CEO’s that spear them, who themselves are beholden to Wall Street? How often does AutoBrand CEO occupy the seat for 5 years, let alone 10? The few who make it past that, have no shortage of folks aiming for their head. Egos rule, but Golden Parachutes rule more: Ghosn and the GOAT are just two of your favorite examples of mercenaries in convenient seats. Brands are nothing to them but the logos on the paychecks, if not stepping stones to the next one.

I’m sure the number of automotive executive boards on the planet with a clear, stone-carved strategy and identity, and the ability to execute beyond 10 years, can be counted on one hand with digits to spare. Toyota and Subaru are two of them. I’m not sure I could think of any others. Maybe Bentley/Rolls/Morgan, but they have the luxury of stubbornly unchanging exclusive tradition as raison d'etre…

…As you pointed out, things change so fast: Nobody can predict the future two years out let alone 10, and occasionally stone carvings get struck by lightning. All brands might need to adapt… but how many bother to answer, “Why”?

Tony Lucio
Frankfort, Kentucky

Addicted to stair steps.

The other most enduring destroyer of brand equity is our manufacturing friends reliance on dealer stair step incentives. Nothing in retail destroys credibility faster, and for literally generations, than manufacturer programs that provide multiple levels of cost to their dealers based on levels of sales attainment for which we have no control or input. CSI is a joke, only market share counts to our leaders.

Tim M.
Highland, Illinois


Hyundai-Kia Blues.

I personally think that a bigger embarrassment for Hyundai-KIA is what the company intends to accomplish with the Stinger's sister car, the Genesis G70. The Stinger is only interesting because KIA is a mainstream brand that's producing a sports sedan. However, considering that the Genesis G70 is actually meant to be a true luxury competitor in the sports sedan segment, Genesis's effort is downright disappointing. There is absolutely nothing exciting or aspirational about the G70. When all is said an done, I think that the real question is what the hell is Genesis thinking?

One more point: I wouldn't be shocked if the Stinger does live to see a second generation even if it is a sales flop. I only say this because I read in another publication that a KIA executive alluded to the next-gen KIA K900 (another sales flop and marketing joke) debuting at the New York Auto Show.

Alexander Carabitses
Cranston, Rhode Island

And another thing.

With so many players in today's market it's tough to stand out. Everybody can't be real good. Maybe what's needed now is participation trophies. Isn't that part of Millennial culture?

Nissan: In a nutshell, the flop of Titan tells the story.

Kia: Well, they have one bright spot... the cool and funky Soul. To bad it has low profit margins and appeals mostly to retiring baby boomers. Guess that makes it less cool.

Musk: I have to admit the tandem 3 rocket launch and Tesla in space with David Bowie playing was pretty cool. He's now slightly less of a tool. But the music only played for six hours, until the battery petered out. One would think Tesla could have done a little more engineering. A cheapo solar panel from Harbor Freight could have kept the music playing indefinitely.

Frank S.
Rochester, Michigan

The Great Automotive Beyond.

I’ve driven the Stinger GT and it’s an excellent effort. The styling is a little bit odd but if history is any guide my brain will re-calibrate at some point and start really digging it (see e.g. Porsche 928).

But if the Kia brain trust truly expect that the Stinger will do anything more than generate a bit of buzz among the cognoscenti they’re about to be badly stung.

First, it’s not a Mercedes, BMW or Audi. While none of their cars is especially special ( or minus the C class which is a legitimately luxurious ride), the number of sport sedan shoppers willing to venture out into the unknown inhabited by Infiniti’s, Lexii, Cadillacs and Alfa’s is minuscule. That’s too bad, especially in the case of the Alfa which is far and away the best driving car in the class (if afflicted with classic Alfa reliability). But at least Alfa has some kind of a name. Kia? How about Nada.

Second and more important, the Stinger’s not an SUV. And therefore twenty years late and completely irrelevant. Sorry Kia, but four door sport sedan halo’s have long since passed into the great automotive beyond.

San Francisco, California


Speaking of Nissan…

Do you know who did the voiceovers for all those Datsun “We Are Driven” spots? I seem to recall that you worked on the “Major Motion” spots, and those were some of the last commercials that used that voiceover actor. The energy and optimism of the voice combined with the writing really made for some great work. Spot on about Nissan. Image-wise they kind of remind me of Chrysler (a distant third in quality to GM and Ford). Nissan = not quite Toyota or Honda.

Jacksonville, Florida

Editor-in-Chief's Note: I don't recall the voiceover now. When I went to work for the William Esty advertising agency in New York, which had the Nissan account, the name change to Nissan had just happened. I still think it was a huge mistake. -PMD

From the "Squandering A Legacy" File.

The Altima is usually the car tailgating me in traffic… blackout windows about half the time. A Rogue is the car that is driving stupidly ahead of you. You don't see many of them in the Green Leafy Burbs, unless you get to one of the pockets of poverty. Payment buyers all, and most of them in poor condition, even new-ish.

I drove a GT-R recently for two days. I cannot believe it comes from the same company. although a bit of a sledghammer, even for an exotic. The only thing missing from the GT-R is a sexy sound... it sounds like a box of (very fast) rocks.

Nissan has squandered a great legacy, but how many companies have we seen destroy Brand Image for volume ? BMW comes to mind...

Casey Raskob, Esq.
Green Leafy Burbs, New York City

This is No Shit.

I worked for a steamship line a few decades ago. During a training class, the instructor, an old merchant mariner, asked us the difference between a fairy tale and sea story. His answer is that fairy tales begin with ‘Once upon a time’ and sea stories begin with ‘this is no shit’.

This is no shit, I was reading this week’s rant in front of the TV. Seconds after reading your comments about Nissan being the go to brand for discounted Altima’s and Rogues a commercial comes on for none other than the Rogue for $159/month. And they didn’t stop there, in the unlikely event that you wanted some other Nissan they would sell you one for no interest in a 72 month loan. And it wasn’t even a special occasion sale for President's Day next week. It was just a general ad to roll product off their lot. I’m sure if you wait a few days they’ll add an additional incentive on to these deals. All of this proves is that this week’s rant was as the tag line says – the Bare-knuckled, Unvarnished High-Octane Truth.

Holly Springs, North Carolina


From the "Just When I Thought I Was Out... They Pull Me Back In" File.

Hmmm… Stinger: It's Here and Now, at Least for Now.

Sounds like the start of a great ad campaign…




Another – to me – brilliant ad campaign was Datsun’s “Drive a Datsun, THEN decide!”. It was a perfect tag line because at the time, VW was still a very big seller. My father bought a Datsun 411 SSS sedan. It looked like something Rootes would have put the Hillman name on. Butter-smooth four-speed stick, excellent fit and finish, plenty of “zip and go”. I agree: ditching the Datsun name in the American market was one of the all-time marketing blunders. Virtually everybody knew of Datsun.

D. J. Mann
Johnson City, Tennessee

Sounds familiar.

Someone once told me that the difference between a fairy tale and a fishing story was that the fairy tale began with “Once upon a time” and the fishing story began with “Y'all ain't gonna believe this shit…” haha

Sounds a bit like bench racing too, doesn't it?

Dave G.
Calgary, Alberta, CANADA


Datsun deserved better.

I was appalled at the time when Nissan Motors walked away from the incredible Datsun brand heritage. I particularly remember the 510, with its affordable performance built on simple and reliable mechanicals. The Datsun 510 was absolutely indestructible; a girlfriend's 510 was the most beat-up and mistreated car I've ever been in, but the thing kept going. Another standout was the 240Z, with its overhead cam engine, disc brakes and independent suspension in a beautiful and affordable car. The only memory I have of Nissan was the preposterous torque steer in the Maxima.

John Page
New Orleans, Louisiana


The best Datsun has a small block Chevy in it.

A friend in Las Vegas sent me some pics after he met Peter Brock at a local car show with his sleeper 510 -- this one:

Buffalo, New York 


Brand Spanking.

I just saw my first Kia Stinger “in the wild,” parked in downtown Brooklyn. I thought it was an Optima with fake brake cooling ducts. Worse, next to it was an Audi S4.

Perhaps the Stinger is as great as the fanboy rags say. But as you say, “carry water for the brand?” Sales-wise, it'll be more like a wet rag in 9-12 months — soaking up the incentives. Hey, what are the residuals on Cadillac's sport sedans that were supposed to transform the brand?

On the bright side, someone will get a good deal later on if they don't care about resale.

Peter Engel
Brooklyn, New York


We've seen this movie before, and it never ends well.

Spot on Peter. You have clearly identified a repeated group think from some of the current Marketing teams. We have seen it before, and it will probably happen again in the future.

Saginaw, Michigan