For Better or Worse, Car Companies Sell Their Souls and Evolve

Lexus GS teaser

In order to survive in this new, post-recession, economic Armageddon of a world we live in, automakers are selling their souls for a chance to compete for a dwindling pool of car buyers.

That might sound like a bad thing, but it’s just the cost of doing business. Plus it means new vehicles are reaching dealer showrooms; it’s just that some of those vehicles aren’t what buyers expect from their beloved brands.

Porsche started the trend almost a decade ago with the 2003 Cayenne SUV, a vehicle launch that had Porsche purists fearing for the very existence of the company. Of course, everything turned out just fine. Porsche still builds the sports cars it has always been famous for in addition to benefiting from the massive infusion of cash the Cayenne created.

Yeah, part of the Porsche soul has been sold to the Cayenne, but the SUV’s sales fund the development of future sports cars. A win for everyone!

Other automakers are beginning to follow suit. Lexus, for example, is about to undergo a major brand evolution to keep up with its German competitors.

People buy Lexus vehicles for two reasons:

  1. The cars are plush, smooth, silent, luxurious and comfortable.
  2. They offer long-term Toyota reliability.

That’s the formula that let Lexus crush other luxury carmakers in the U.S. market for much of the last decade. Now, though, Lexus has been passed over in sales by Mercedes-Benz and BMW. So what’s Lexus to do? Change the formula, of course.

The change begins to take effect with the next Lexus GS, set to debut at the 2011 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. The company said in a statement,

The fourth-generation GS has been completely redesigned, inside and out, and will feature the brand’s new design philosophy, with styling cues such as a distinctive new front grille, that will soon be seen on all future Lexus vehicles. The new GS will also lead the rest of the Lexus lineup in an entirely new direction of driving dynamics.

Instead of classy cars with simple styling that are nice to drive, it seems the company wants to abandon its soul and buy BMW’s. Which begs the question:

Will Lexus’ “entirely new direction of driving dynamics” be a true brand evolution, or an attempt to become something it isn’t?


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1 Comment

  1. The real problem is that most corporations today have the expansion disease– they have to show a steadily increasing market share and profit margin or they are judged a failure in the business world. The result is freakmobiles like the Cayenne, which is basically an overstuffed and overpriced VW.
    At the same time, these companies labor under the worst disease of all– “Brand” marketing. What works OK for jeans and shoes brings you fleets of vehicles that all look the same, like Chevy. That works OK until people get tired of the brand, and then it tanks like Tiger Woods. Brand marketing is a way for the overeducated to sit back and collect a fat paycheck without having to do any real work or to let the sylists and engineers create something fresh for the public to enjoy.
    Grow or die is what has been killing Toyota and Honda, both of whom have learned that you can grow too much and then you kill what created your growth in the first place. And brand marketing is killing just about everybody these days– That’s where you get those fleets of Audi’s that simply MUST have the same grille design (ditto BMW), fleets of different sized chevy Malibus, Jeeps slot grille on everything they make, look alike Pontiacs (which really helped kill that brand along with the stupid and meaningless G-names).
    Wouldn’t you just love to see what some of these designers could come up with if they were allowed to dictate the design process rather than the marketing department?

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