Before the Saturn Sky was released to market, I wrote an essay for BusinessWeek talking about why, if I were to buy a sports car, the Sky would be at the top of my list. My point was that it’s not just about the car — it’s about what the ownership experience should be and can be. In other words, it’s about brand, where brand is about what you do rather than what you say you do.
The New York Times ran an article today titled 2 G.M. Brands, a Similar Car, but Very Different Results. It compares and contrasts the wildly different market fortunes of the Pontiac Solstice and the Saturn Sky, which share a common platform and the majority of their mechanical bits:
Sales of the Solstice are down 19 percent this year through July,
and G.M., which apologized for not building enough Solstices initially,
now has nearly a five months’ supply in inventory, double the
carmaker’s average. Sales of Pontiac-branded cars and trucks are off 17
percent, compared with 9 percent for all eight G.M. nameplates,
according to Autodata, which tracks industry statistics.
such a radical departure from what people expected out of Pontiac that
it created a tremendous buzz when it first hit the market,” said Wes
Brown, an automotive consultant and a partner in the Los Angeles
marketing firm Iceology. “It looks pretty cool, but ultimately it’s not
able to overcome some of those barriers people have within their mind
with regard to the brand image.”
Meanwhile, demand for the
Solstice’s fraternal twin, the costlier and more angular Saturn Sky,
has shown no signs of subsiding. G.M. has about one month’s worth of
the Sky available, and many buyers still have to wait several weeks or
months for their Sky to arrive.
From a behavioral design perspective, they’re virtually identical but where they depart is in their visceral design elements — the Pontiac is swoopy mango yogurt where the Sky is crisp Prada suit — and in their reflective design elements. The latter is touched on briefly in the article, but I think it’s at the core of the issue here: what people buy is reflective design and, by extension, the experience of what it will feel like to participate in the brand over time. While I’m a believer where Pontiac can go (their new G8 sedan bodes to be a BMW 5-series killer), for most folks Pontiac is a golden screaming chicken decal on the hood of a muscle car piloted by a guy with a mustache. Saturn is a group of people who will help your daughter out when her car has broken down in the desert. In other words, Pontiac is about (the old, wrong) product, while Saturn is about a having a nice experience.
It’s not just about product anymore.
I used to sell Saturns and, as I’m sure you know, you have hit on the entire premise upon which the brand was founded. I’m thrilled to see GM being more aggressive in it’s marketing for Saturn. It really is a great car with a great approach to customer service. Their only real mistake was letting the design aspect flounder for so many years.
Saturn is one of the few things going well at GM. The more Opel they can infuse the better, and I think the US intro of the Astra will be great.
The G8 will kill the 5-series? Kind of like how the GTO killed the 6-series? Nah, I don’t see it. The G8 would have been better off given to Saturn to help supplement the Aura as their sedan brand develops. Pontiac is dead in the water and the G8 won’t help.
When showing people how Google Trends works, I often show overlays of query trends for the words: equinox, full moon, solstice: http://www.google.com/trends?q=equinox%2C+full+moon%2C+solstice It’s so interesting to me that you could almost set your clock by these queries.
Yet, when you isolate on ‘solstice’ you actually see a bump: http://www.google.com/trends?q=solstice&ctab=0&geo=all&date=all&sort=0
Yep. That is when Pontiac revved up the PR engines to promote the Solstice.