The news that JCB expressed an interest in Jaguar prompted a belated postscript on the increasingly complex logic of car branding. Equally, the recent partnership talks between General Motors, Renault and Nissan, and the ongoing marriage problems of Daimler Chrysler have provided fascinating insights into possible cultural melanges of American, French, Japanese and German stereotypes.
Seen against the ambitions of Chinese car makers, possible bed fellows get even more bizarre. Shanghai Automotive Industrial Corporation, the joint venture partner of GM and Volkswagen in China, plans to build export models under its own name. At the same time, Cherry, China’s third largest selling brand behind GM and Volkswagen, is planning made in ChinaItalian design cars for US buyers. And plans by Nanjing Automotive, the new owners of MG, for a joint venture roadster built in the US should make for some interesting brand attributes.
Arguments of potential synergies are fascinating and for some, no doubt, fantasy. With the recent announcement that Ford is now buying the Rover name from BMW, it leaves Shanghai Automotive with Chinese cars it is building from Rover design apparently ‘badgeless’. Shanghai Automative now hope to ‘lease’ the name from Ford.
This makes for interesting brand architecture charts for consultants and possible ‘ownership’ problems for car owners. Have they bought a ‘real’ Rover, Ford or Land Rover? Ford’s move is about protecting the Land Rover SUV concept, but the buying of bonnet badges by increasingly amorphous car groups begs a few questions on credibility.
The raw power appeal of a stylish TVR was supposed to be an ultimate English brand despite Russian ownership, but will moving production overseas change perceptions? A Saab 9-3 may be stylish on the top but is it a Vauxhall Vectra underneath?
However, it seems we want so much to believe the marketing story that car brands can still defy gravity. Ultimately, we are suckers for a good legend. In the end, we conspire with the ‘manufacturers’ to believe what we and they want us to believe for our own tribal recognition needs.
For the individual, owning the brand dream will always be more important than the company who has increasingly possible temporary ownership. The commercial dream is presumably a mutual enhancement of reputations – a tougher Jaguar and faster JCB? Will this finally stop the tired old consultancy cliché ‘if your company was a car what would it be…?’ I doubt it.