I got this article in my inbox from million-mile Saaber, Peter Gilbert. I don’t always get time to read every link that lands in my mailbox, but it’s a weekend and seeing the top 10 list for the US did hold some interest. And it did get me thinking.
Here are the top 10 selling vehicles for the US so far in 2011, as listed online by Forbes:
10. Ram pickup – Spun off from Dodge, Ram pickups stand on their own now.
9. Chevrolet Cruze – Chevy’s new small car has strong sales momentum.
8. Toyota Corolla – Corolla is down 11% this year amid tougher small car competition and dealer shortages.
7. Honda Accord – The only Honda model still in the top 10 due to inventory shortages.
6. Ford Fusion – Ford’s mid-size sedans have led a product revolution at Ford.
5. Ford Escape – Escape sales stayed strong, even with a redesign on the way for 2012.
4. Nissan Altima – Nissan’s mid-sized sedan shot up the list as other Japanese makers struggled.
3. Toyota Camry – Camry is still the nation’s best-selling car, and a redesign is coming for 2012.
2. Chevrolet Silverado pickup – Chevy pickups are overdue for an update, but still selling well.
1. Ford F-150 pickup – Ford’s workhorse pickups are the perennial best seller.
Now, I may be learning the completely wrong lesson here, but here’s what I saw in that list.
The most popular cars in the US are rather boring, vanilla sedans that are sold on a combination of features and price, with price being a big driver. None of the cars in that list are going to get anyone’s heart racing. They’re not going to turn any heads. They sell because they deliver what customers expect – a price-driven transportation appliance.
The trucks on that list each have their own loyal following and sell on a combination of price and functionality. They hold a promise of delivering a certain degree of utility and they have a place in the semi-modern American automotive tradition. The fact that the F150 has been the best selling vehicle in the US since Adam wore short pants tells you just how deep that tradition goes, and how well Ford keep delivering on that F150 promise. The F150 is pretty much a brand in itself nowadays.
Both sets of vehicles, cars and trucks, make certain offerings to their customers. The customers know what they’re going to get, whether it’s a boring sedan or a functional pickup. They’re buying transportation, or reliability, or functionality. Whatever the promise is, the vehicles in the list deliver on it at a price that’s suitable for the American consumer (the most price-driven consumer on the earth, in my experience).
So that’s the first thing that stuck out to me – something we all know, really, but it stared me in the face as I looked at this list: You’ve got to have a brand/sales promise that you can deliver to your prospective clientele. Price is important, especially in the US, but delivering on your promise is crucial (especially if you’re a niche brand like Saab).
One company that’s not on that list, but may be by this time next year, is Volkswagen. They have a goal to increase their sales in the US by massive multiples and they’re on their way to doing so, recording a 40% increase in year-on-year sales in October, and recently being hailed as one of the most profitable car companies going around.
I made a video highlighting Volkswagen a few motor shows ago (in LA, I think, November 2011) where I famously described their stand a Das Boring (which it was). They’d just re-packaged their vehicle range in such a way as to drive down their list prices, de-contenting them like crazy (drum brakes?!) and they took a fair bit of criticism in the automotive press for doing so. They weren’t worried, though. Perhaps what they’ve learned, something that a few others haven’t yet, is that the first online price comparison is crucial in keeping you on a US shopper’s list.
Maybe this is something else that we have to learn. Saab will never be able to sell on price alone like Volkswagen can. That’s not where we are and as a small car company, it’s not likely a place where we’ll ever be. But maybe there are some things that we can learn about how we package vehicles and present them to the market.
Volkswagen have de-contented the heck out of their standard offerings but from an industry broadcast I saw last week, they’re still selling at very similar transaction prices to what they used to. People who are drawn in by the competitive list price are optioning them up once they see the car in the metal at the showroom.
Can we sell Saabs the same way? I’m not sure, but it was definitely food for thought for me on a lazy Saturday morning.