December 9, 2009
Last week in LA, the auto show season officially opened with the nation's first major show of the new model year. It provided an opportunity to look at new product, evaluate brand strategy, and take a pulse of industry sentiment as we close out one of the most difficult years ever experienced. While attitudes were still cautious, there was a sense that the worst might be behind us.
Consumer confidence improved slightly in November and has held steady at around 50 after plummeting to below 30 in May. Reported unemployment declined slightly to 10% from 10.2%. Industry analysts are forecasting growth in volume and ad spending for 2010. For some, LA was the stage to tell a great story, for others LA confirmed continuing difficulties, and for some it was a non-event. They didn't even bother to show.
Hyundai stormed the show and was clearly the star. Building on the momentum achieved in 2009, they introduced the new Sonata mid-sized sedan and new Tucson crossover utility vehicle. Styling, interior packaging, fit and finish, and feature content were simply outstanding for both products. They've achieved industry leading fuel economy and are committed to building on their leadership position. Expect them to be the industry success story in 2010.
Audi was brilliant. Their product, presentation, and presence dominated the show. With more new product arriving in 2010, they will achieve additional share gains in the coming year.
Ford continued to separate itself from the other domestic brands and is re-establishing itself as an industry leader. They have a sound plan and are executing against that plan with great consistency. Fiesta was the star of this show. The marketing pre-launch has been a breath of fresh air, building the foundation for a hugely successful market introduction. The executive team at Ford is doing a magnificent job of polishing the Blue Oval. Ford is the American car company.
Chrysler. Although they upgraded their show presence from last year, their display still lacked luster, resembling a parking lot that did very little to drive consideration of their products. They clearly struggle with brand separation, their products aren't the strongest in their respective segments, and they aren't telling any compelling stories. As a result, their sales are down 25% (for November) in an industry that is now stabilizing. It is going to be a struggle for Sergio Marchionne to manage cash flow and/or revenue until new technology and new product arrive.
General Motors. First they fired their CEO the day before he was scheduled to give the keynote address. Next, they hastily flew their Vice-Chairman and most compelling evangelist back to Detroit. At the show, they spent a ridiculous amount of time talking about their inventive, socially hip approach to color naming and left everybody wondering about their products. Although they have better product than they have ever had, in some cases fully competitive with segment leaders, they continue to lose the significant marketing and PR battles. Taxpayers may never be repaid.
Nissan. It's hard to call either Nissan or Infiniti a loser when they didn't even bother to show. The LA show attracts an audience of leading industry journalists and approximately one million paying automotive enthusiasts and car shoppers. It's one of the only places an auto maker can display their brands and products in a completely controlled environment. Even if you don't have new product to share, it's hard to understand why you wouldn't take advantage of the opportunity to tell your story and present your products. This was the perfect opportunity to show potential customers the new Nissan Leaf and demonstrate leadership in electric technology. It was the perfect opportunity to show the stunning new Infiniti M37, squarely aimed at the Southern California luxury market. Missed opportunity.