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Classic Velocity Blog

Lessons on Listening

Classic Velocity

What with electric vehicles, hybrid vehicles, new models, and refreshed models, there seems to be a particularly rich feast of fresh automotive meat available at this time. If you enjoy both 2 wheels and 4, then it is probable that you have already contracted a severe case of virtual whiplash or non-virtual carpal tunnel syndrome. It is always interesting to see how the designers and engineers have interpreted the feedback and input and focus group reports from the past as translated by their sales and marketing folks. Then there are accountants and operations managers and lawyers further diluting the purity of the feedback. That said, the current suite of products is them playing back what they heard us say we want, and some companies get it very right, while others seem to get it very wrong (IMHO). What follows then are a few exemplary examples from the exemplified camps :
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Ferrari Italia. Right. These guys get it right with few exceptions. I'm not sure how you keep making cars of such beauty and performance, but Ferrari is one of the few manufacturers whose new offerings rival their old in desirability. Everyone seems to want in to the supercar space, but Ferrari remains true to their heritage, and you don't need the prancing horse to know what kind of car this is. You can put this latest one on display in the museum right now and avoid the wait. Oh, and by the way, that can be an industrial art museum, a fine art museum, an automotive museum, or a peep show.
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Porsche Panamera. Wrong. As a fan of the marque, I recognize that Porsche design is not everybody's cup of tea. Its the performance. However, the iconic shape of the 911 is iconic for a reason. The panamera is a distortion that gives the supermodel a hunchback and buckteeth. I disliked the Cayenne, but at least it didn't mess up a silhouette with 50 years of success. I'm ready to predict lousy response, and for it to be confined it to the bell tower of sales, but I was wrong about the Cayenne, so I won't.
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BMW S1000RR. Right. This is how to make a crazy-looking, form follows function, teutonic missile, in a new market segment that you are entering (listening Porsche?). Visit my earlier blog post to read more, but you need one of these. Even if you don't, you do.
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Mercedes SLS Gullwing. Wrong. It's not that you can't capitalize on an icon from your past (see porsche 911, new Mini, new Beetle, new Challenger), it's just that you have to get it right if you do. The examples in the parentheses pay more than a little homage to the exterior of the icons they are renewing. Besides the way the doors open, and the reported ingress/egress difficulties, the SLS pays more homage to the predecessor SLR.  This might be a better car if they made conventional doors and dropped the whole Gullwing thing. 
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Ford Fiesta. Right. Finally, Ford figures out (or remembers) that it is a good idea to bring the european (or Indian) goodness that they have to the US. This is no cheap econobox like the Fiesta a family member had in the early 1980s, but an example of good things in small packages. The US is not going to become a small car nation anytime soon, but cars like this will begin to change thinking. Bravo.
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Lexus LFA. Wrongo. A $400K 350Z ? Really Lexus ? Wow. It is hard to believe that a car this anticipated, this expensive, and with Toyota behind it, would come out looking like a boy racer option from Gran Turismo. You would think that the years of F1 experience, and the proven track record of delivering what the market wants would at least produce a benchmark supercar.  
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Triumph Speed Triple. Righto. Minimal visual changes, more power. The original bad boy is still a bad boy. The rest of the Triumph range for 2010 is not bad either. Thruxton, Thunderbird, Bonneville, Tiger, etc. These guys listen well.

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Indian. Wrong. Full points for having another go at this, and I hope I'm wrong, but the 107th attempt to revive the Indian brand does not have history on its side or even a favorable economy. $30K cruisers are a tough sell these days, ask Harley Davidson. Victory has carved out a niche, but entry into the US V-twin space is a difficult proposition even when times are good.