Every day I seem to come across another German car story or a story about a German in a key role in a non-German company. It’s never ending. You almost have to feel sorry for Opel right now – doing so poorly when the Germany seems to be dominating the car industry. Actually, you don’t have to feel sorry for Opel at all. Bastards.
I thought I’d take a quick look – just a basic skim – over the German car industry and some of the key Germans in other companies. I’m likely to have missed HEAPS of things in this, so feel free to add some more in comments if you feel so inclined.
Mercedes – After some quality issues a few decades ago, Mercedes seems to be getting a groove on releasing hit after hit. Now they’re trying to get younger while maintaining their premium position in the industry and the new A-Class indicates that they know exactly where they’re going.
It’s taken nearly 15 years of AMG ownership for Mercedes to really capitalise on it but now the merger has genuine momentum and people are looking forward to AMG editions with the same expectancy that people used to look forward to BMW’s new ‘M’ cars five years ago. Mercedes is definitely not just an old man’s car. Not any more.
Mercedes’ corporate parent, Daimler AG, also owns or has an interest in a bunch of other automotive and heavy transportation companies. This includes Smart, Freightliner, Western Star and others. Now that that funny business with Chrysler is over, it seems they’ve really hit their straps in the reinvigoration of their main automotive label – Mercedes Benz.
BMW – Something strange has happened over the last couple of years. BMW are no longer the cars with a reputation for being driven by wankers and idiots. The automotive press are no longer falling over themselves to lay awards, along with an endless string of sugary superlatives, at BMW’s feet. Why did this happen? Has BMW tailed off somehow? Are they devoid of products that people want to swoon over?
The first thing that happened is the rise of Audi over the last few years and the resurgence of Mercedes, as previously noted. But the most interesting thing is the effect this has had on BMW’s sales.
Despite the rise of Audi and the resurgence of Mercedes, BMW sales haven’t dropped an inch. In fact, BMW are selling in record numbers.
The BMW Group recorded record sales of 1,845,186 vehicles in 2012, up 10% on 2011 and a record for the company. It’s not just group sales, however. Each of BMW’s brands – BMW, Mini and Rolls Royce – set sales records as well. The icing on the cake was BMW Motoradd, their motorcycle division, also selling more in 2012 than any other year in it’s 90 year history.
BMW may have lost a little of it’s gloss but it keeps powering ahead building plenty of cars that people want to buy.
Volkswagen – VW were the third biggest car company in the world by sales in 2012. They missed out on being #2 by just 70,000 sales and if things continue on trend, they’ll overtake GM for that #2 spot this year. They won’t be far behind Toyota for the #1 spot, either.
Volkswagen sells passenger cars using 8 different brands that it owns 100%: Volkswagen, Porsche, Bentley, Lamborghini, SEAT, Bugatti, Audi and Skoda.
Now….. think about those vehicles for a minute and tell me the similarities between them (aside from having the same corporate parent).
There are only a few that I can think of, being mostly between VW and Audi.
What Volkswagen does exceptionally well, aside from building good quality vehicles with a noted focus on interior quality, is preserve and cultivate brand identity. People familiar with the car industry know that an Audi is made by the same global company that makes a SEAT, but nobody cares because the Audi has Audi quality and identity. The same goes all the way up to Bugatti.
This ability to keep so many balls in the air at the same time is why VW was able to generate a €15 Billion-with-a-B profit in 2011.
As an Alfa fan, I have to note that Lamborghini also owns Ducati motorcycles. There’s been some talk of Volkswagen wanting to buy Alfa Romeo from Fiat, too, which I imagine would be completed through the Lamborghini arm of VW’s business. That would be a nice little Italian mob if it were to happen and as an Alfa fan, I don’t think I’d complain.
OK, so those are German companies and there are no real surprises there, but what about these?
Qoros – You might be a little surprised to see that name here. Qoros is a Chinese-located and Chinese-Israeli owned operation, after all. At the head of the design tree, however – the heart of any car company’s operation – is a German. Gert Volker Hildebrand has got some experience too, having run the design team at Mini for 10 years before leaving at the end of 2011.
Hyundai/Kia – Like Qoros, Kia put a German designer in charge a few years ago. Former Audi designer Peter Schreyer became Head of Design at Kia in 2006 and Kia hasn’t looked back since. The new design language along with massive warranty support has seen Kia kicking goals all around the world. The powers-that-be at Kia’s big brother Hyundai were so impressed that they put Schreyer in charge of the whole family – President of Design for Hyundai/Kia. Have they encouraged Schreyer to bite off more than he can chew?
TATA – Everyone’s looking at China right now for growth in the automotive industry, and rightly so.
BUT….There’s another country with a billion-strong population that’s growing economically and won’t be too far behind China in terms of world significance – India.
Tata is the 18th largest automotive company in the world by sales. But did you know it’s the 4th largest truck manufacturer and the 2nd largest bus manufacturer (thanks Wikipedia)? Tata bought Jaguar Landrover from Ford 5 years ago and both brands have more than just survived the change in ownership. Jaguar is moving steadily and Landrover is powering along with the growth of the SUV segment and the release of the Evoque.
The German connection here is Carl-Peter Forster, the former GM Europe boss who joined Tata in 2010. Forster left Tata nearly two years later for family reasons, but remains on the Tata board.
I’ve left Opel off this list because they’re not doing particularly well. They seem to be in a state of constant upheaval and are regarded as a weight around GM’s neck by many, despite some pretty complimentary reviews about their vehicles in press reports here (especially the OPC range).
I have to admit that I don’t know enough about Ford’s German operations to comment at all. They don’t seem to be selling many Fords in Germany, though, with only the Fiesta and Focus making it into Germany’s top 40 private car sales models in 2012 (and even those two were well down the list).
Despite those two comparatively weaker companies, Germans seem to go gangbusters at making cars – and making them well.
I’ve always had a healthy respect for German cars but I can’t say I’ve ever been passionate about one. I’ve driven a few Porsches and BMWs in my time and whilst Porsches are still on my bucket-list, they’re the only German brand I’ve ever felt compelled to pursue.
If you’ve got any clues as to why that is, or if you think German cars are totally engaging, I’d love to hear why. They way they’re going, we’ll all be driving something German-owned or influenced soon 🙂