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Archive for May, 2010

Marty’s Marketing Minutia

Hamsters, hucksters and holidays.

by on May.28, 2010

Kia Responds to Public Demand: Soul’s Hamsters Return

The hip-hop Kia hamsters are making their return.

Those hip-hop hamsters are back.  But we’ll get to the news in a moment.

People either like or dislike television commercials. There’s no such a thing as just okay, all right or average.  Black or white, nothing gray.

The first Kia Soul commercial, (Click Here) became a hit with consumers, said Michael Sprague, the Korean maker’s vice president of marketing, in a phone interview, “It generated over three million total YouTube hits and garnered more Facebook fans than any of its segment competitors.”

I followed up with the question “Is a social network hit equal to the Washington politico saying that every phone, call, letter or email is tantamount to receiving 1,000 calls?”  Sprague’s response was, “Yes!”  Now that’s big time.

The advertising research and creative communities liked it too. It has won major accolades for Kia, whose  advertising agency, David&Goliath, created the first commercial.  Among the kudos: Nielsen’s Top Automotive Ad of the Year, awarded at the 2010 New York Auto Show, and based on direct feedback from consumers. Next month Kia will receive a prestigious Effie Award. High praise indeed.

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Praise however is measured in terms of sales, right?  Sprague noted Kia introduced the Soul, their first car truly aimed at GenY during the worst auto year in history, with an economy in the ceramic receptacle, yet the Soul became the market share leader in its segment in only its second month on sale, and sold more cars than its two chief competitors every month thereafter. The campaign exceeded internal sales goals by over 30%.” Enuf said.

As a former ad guy I had to find out more ‘cause I knew presenting much less selling an idea like this had to be easier said than done.

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Rest in Peace, Mercury

It’s all over but the funeral after years of criminal neglect.

by on May.28, 2010

World class fuel economy is available from the Milan hybrid, at least for the moment.

The herd mentality of the media is in full view during this week’s feeding frenzy and rampant speculation over the impending demise of the Mercury brand. Such a move, if it is presented to and approved by Ford Motor Company’s board of directors at its next meeting, will cost a lot of money to shut dealers and see Ford lose the sales of roughly 100,000 annually provided by the Mercury brand.

This, of course, is not the first occasion when Mercury had to fight for its survival.

In recent times, the decision not to provide Mercury with a version of the Ford Focus in 2000 started a product diet – critics say starvation plan – that has resulted in Mercury’s paltry product lineup today. With the impending cancellation of the Mountaineer sport utility this year and Grand Marquis sedan next year, the Mercury lineup would be down to just four derivative products –the Mariner compact SUV and the Milan midsize sedan, along with hybrid versions of both.

It’s a tribute to Mercury dealers that without any support from the parent company that they are able to sell as many cars as they currently do. As an example of the criminal neglect that Ford executives imposed on Mercury, consider that the Grand Marquis website hasn’t been updated since the 2008 model appeared.

Alan Mulally, Ford’s CEO, clearly signaled the end this morning while speaking to analysts when he said that he had nothing new to add on speculation that Ford is planning to shut down its Mercury brand after 71 years. Mulally said that Ford continues to look closely at its portfolio of brands and consider strategic options that would be good for business. So my take on this is it’s all over but the funeral.

Look for an upcoming detailed history and analysis of the tribulations and trials of Mercury since its extremely successful introduction as a 1939 model – 80,000 sales the first year in what was a much smaller, depression market then – from our resident expert, Mike Davis, aka Mercuryphile Mike.

GM Aiming to Redefine, Rebuild OnStar

Telematics brand is making money, but needs to respond to fast-changing world, says new CEO.

by on May.28, 2010

OnStar has "healthy" revenues - but plenty of challenges - says new CEO Chris Preuss.

A pioneer in automotive telematics, General Motors’ OnStar unit may be generating “healthy” revenues, but the world of in-car electronics is changing fast and if it doesn’t make some major changes soon OnStar very well could be left behind, admits its new chief executive.

While its core business is selling safety and security – with devices that can call for help after a crash or another emergency – OnStar is exploring a fast-expanding array of possible services that can be delivered within a moving car, says the unit’s new Chief Executive Chris Preuss.  And it is willing to break with tradition, he notes.  In years past, OnStar believed it had to develop all services in-house, but is now willing to work with outside software and service partners.

The challenge, warns Preuss, the former head of General Motors public relations, is that many of the features that might be technologically possible pose potential risks.

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“I see a big, flashing red light,” says Preuss.  “One of the biggest issues we have is distracted driving,” which is being blamed for thousands of deaths and injuries on the road each year.  “At the end of the day, 6,000 people died playing with devices (while driving) last year.  That’s the equivalent of two 9/11s.”

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Volkswagen Publishes iPad Customer Magazine

Here’s the first automaker to develop a magazine app.

by on May.28, 2010

"Our goal is to transmit the fascination of the brand and its products in a new digital dimension, creating a global experience."

Volkswagen is the first automaker to develop a digital customer magazine as an app for the Apple iPad. The “innovative” digital product – dubbed DAS for Digital Automotive Space – is appearing as the launch of the new Apple tablet computer proceeds across Europe.

It is just the latest example of the integration of automotive marketing into the computerized world, which is increasingly dominated by mobile devices.

Such devices represent a “distracted driving” safety threat, according to critics. In the U.S., it is estimated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that almost 6,000 deaths occur each year and nearly 500,000 people are injured from the growing use of electronic devices in automobiles. The Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki Moon, recently called for a global initiative to end distracted driving.

Portugal already bans all cell phone use while driving, including hands-free. Thirty-two other nations, like 25 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, have anti-texting laws or handheld phone bans.

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BMW Diesel Shows Electronic Noise Cancellation

“Active Sound Design” cuts the characteristic clatter.

by on May.28, 2010

Manuel Reichle, sound engineer, and the BMW 635d with Active Sound Design.

BMW is using a 635d model, d for diesel, to demonstrate that electronic noise cancellation can be used instead of heavier materials to decrease the noise created by the compression ignition engine.

At the same time, engineers claim that they can tune the sounds that remain to give them a more pleasing character.

While active noise cancellation is not a new technology, Japanese makers have it in production, the urgent need to reduce the weight of fuel guzzling automobiles to meet increasingly stringent economy and CO2 emission regulations is bringing a new urgency to the search for more applications of existing techniques.

BMW claims that the sporty performance characteristics of its diesel engines and their high torque, especially when starting up and accelerating are contradicted by the “acoustic sensation” of diesel vehicles.

In a diesel, harsh ignition impulses during combustion are responsible for their characteristic noises — commonly called clatter or knocking. Already, makers of diesel cars are using various passive deadening techniques to isolate the sound from passengers, and sometimes outsiders. The problem is that heavier materials, starting  with the engine block and cylinder head provide better attenuation.  As makers reduce weight, they often add it back with insulation or sprayed on materials.

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Mississippi State University EV Wins 2010 EcoCAR

Virginia Tech, Penn State finish second, third with student cars.

by on May.27, 2010

The Mississippi State hybrid had a 21.3 kWh battery pack with an electric range of 60 miles.

Students from Mississippi State University placed first in the 2010 EcoCAR: The NeXt Challenge finals in San Diego today after designing and building a biodiesel extended-range electric vehicle (EREV).

Virginia Tech earned second place with an ethanol-powered EV design. Penn State came in third place with a biodiesel fueled electric vehicle.

Mississippi State beat 15 universities in the second of a three-year competition sponsored by taxpayers via the U.S. Department of Energy and General Motors, ditto on taxpayers providing the money.

During the contest,  North American engineering students rework a GM-donated vehicle to minimize fuel consumption and emissions, while maintaining its “utility, safety and performance.”

Mississippi State designed a hybrid with a 21.3 kWh A123 Systems battery pack, which provides an electric range of 60 miles. (Figure on $1,000 per kWh of storage at current prices, less than  tuition at some of the schools.) It’s also equipped with a 1.3-liter GM turbo-diesel engine and 75 kW generator in a series plug-in configuration.

During testing, the vehicle’s fuel economy was rated at 118 miles per gallon gas equivalent (combined city/highway cycle). In addition to the overall award, Mississippi State won nine additional awards, including performance events in autocross and acceleration runs.

“This was our most challenging year and stakes were high to have our vehicle ready for inspections. To finish a year of hard work and long hours in first place is an incredible honor for me and my teammates,” said Matt Doude from Mississippi State.

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GM Accused of Stealing Einstein’s Image

E=GM2?

by on May.27, 2010

Rights to Albert Einstein's estate are held -- and closely guarded -- by Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that you can’t simply use a celebrity’s image without authorization – even if that superstar was, indeed, a scientist who has been dead for more than half a century.

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem has filed suit against General Motors accusing the automaker of making fraudulent use of the image of Albert Einstein.  The legenday scientist willed his intellectual property and publicity rights to the Israeli school before he passed away, in 1955, at the age of 76.

An unusually buff, and only partially clad Einstein appears in an ad for the GMC Terrain, his famous equation, E=MC2 tattooed onto his shoulder, alongside the tag line, “Ideas are sexy too.”

The suit by Hebrew University was filed in U.S. District Court in California, and seeks damages in excess of $75,000.  The school is known for its aggressive pursuit of alleged copyright infringements.

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Test Finds 38 Million U.S. Drivers Unfit for Roads

They wouldn’t pass a written test if taken today.

by on May.27, 2010

Only one in five would flunk the test?

Nearly one in five licensed drivers – or about 38 million Americans – would not pass a written drivers test if taken today, according to a new survey from GMAC Insurance.

Some might question why it isn’t more.

The sixth annual survey polled 5,202 licensed Americans from 50 states and the District of Columbia, gauging driver knowledge by administering 20 questions taken from state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) exams. Additional questions explored distracting habits such as texting while driving.

Overall, findings indicate a number of licensed Americans continue to lack knowledge of basic rules of the road. The national average score decreased to 76.2% from 76.6 % in 2009. Eighty-five percent could not identify the correct action to take when approaching a steady yellow traffic light and many remained confused by safe following distances.

Kansas drivers ranked first in the nation (82.3% average score); New York drivers ranked last (70% average score). Full results can be found at www.gmacinsurance.com.

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Chinese BYD and Daimler to Develop Electric Car

Shenzhen BYD Daimler will make a new brand EV for China.

by on May.27, 2010

The cost and range of batteries for EVs remains a significant impediment.

BYD Company Limited and Daimler AG today signed a contract creating a 50:50 joint venture called Shenzhen BYD Daimler New Technology Co. Ltd. The new firm will develop an electric vehicle for China under a new brand name.

Daimler and BYD will invest RMB 600 million capital for the firm. Chinese industrial policy requires joint ventures to gain access to its protected market.

The Communist central government also has repeatedly stated its desire to rationalize the Chinese automobile industry around Chinese companies.

In a joint statement, both parent companies said that a new generation of electric vehicles developed will capitalize on Daimler’s expertise in electric vehicle architecture and safety, and BYD’s knowledge in battery technology and e-drive systems. No further technical details are available.

The new car will be marketed under a new brand jointly created and owned by Daimler and BYD, which is China’s fourth largest automaker. Export plans are unknown. However, all nations with industrial policies are attempting to establish local makers and protect home markets for green vehicles, a development that is creating concern among global  market advocates.

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Honda to Install Brake-Override on All Models

Maker hopes to prevent runaway problems similar to Toyota’s.

by on May.27, 2010

Starting in August, Honda will begin installing brake-override systems in all of its vehicles, a process it hopes to complete late in 2011.

Honda Motor Co. says it will install a brake-override system on all of its product lines, starting this year, in an effort to prevent the sort of sudden acceleration problems that have plagued its arch-rival, Toyota.

The technology is designed to disengage the engine when the brake pedal is applied, making it possible to bring a vehicle to a halt in the event the engine unexpectedly begins to race out of control.

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Most Toyota products did not offer this feature, though the troubled maker has begun to install it on a number of its products in the wake of a series of recalls involving sudden acceleration.  In all, about 7.7 million cars, trucks and crossovers have been recalled for the problem in the U.S., and new government data now links at least 89 deaths to runaway Toyota products.  Globally, 8.5 million vehicles are involved

(Click Here for the latest on Toyota’s sudden acceleration problems.)

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