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Auto Shopping from a Strategic Marketing Viewpoint

I'm in the market for a new car, and I can't help but think about the task in marketing terms.

Two of the requirements on my list are "upscale car" (because I want the service and support offered by upscale dealers) and "foreign make" (because I'm not thrilled with the reliability of domestic makes). These two requirements narrow the list down to:

  • Acura
  • Audi
  • BMW
  • Infiniti
  • Lexus
  • Mercedes
I've omitted Jaguar and Land Rover for various reasons, including reliability; Saab and Volvo because I don't consider them to be true upscale makes; and Porsche because I'm looking for a sedan.

So how do these six makes brand themselves?

  • Acura: Visionary innovation meets exhilirating performance.
  • Audi: Attractive, sophisticated, and technically perfect.
  • BMW: The ultimate driving machine.
  • Infiniti: Vibrant design.
  • Lexus: The relentless pursuit of perfection.
  • Mercedes: (I couldn't find a simple branding statement for Mercedes.)
Just for fun, if I were to rate these statements, I'd give BMW an A+, Lexus a B (perfection of what?), Infiniti a C (design of what?), Acura and Audi a D each (long-winded and boring), and of course Mercedes an I for incomplete.

But the real goal here is to look at how these makes position themselves in their markets. The Germans came first, so let's start there.

  • Mercedes is the gold standard, but they want to be most things to many people, and their image is diluted as a result. Really, what does Mercedes stand for? Luxury? Performance? Reliability? I'd say they want to be associated with luxury, but some of their cars seem very ordinary these days. (The ML series comes immediately to mind.)
  • BMW wants to build drivers' cars, and they're doing a great job of it. Their market position matches their company's focus, and their position and focus both match their marketing.
  • I can't figure out Audi. Do they want to be Mercedes? BMW? Something else?
  • Lexus wants to be the Japanese Mercedes -- that's crystal-clear. And they're succeeding at it. Their cars are luxurious, reliable, and -- to my mind, anyway -- boring, though that's a matter of taste, of course.
  • Infiniti absolutely wants to be the Japanese BMW -- again, that's crystal-clear. And as with Lexus, they're succeeding at it. I note that Consumer Reports' top-rated upscale sedan is the G35, while their top-rated luxury sedan is the M35.
  • That leaves Acura. What does Acura want to be? As with Audi, I can't figure that out for the life of me.
So...
  • Mercedes: German luxury.
  • Lexus: Japanese luxury.
  • BMW: German performance.
  • Infiniti: Japanese performance.
  • Audi: ?
  • Acura: ?
I like some of the individual models made by Audi and Acura -- the A4 / S4 and the TL are nice, compact, upscale sedans. But I'd like my car to come from a company with a clear vision of where it's going and what it wants to be. So for that reason alone -- plus my perception that Acura in particular is a step behind the others on this list when it comes to service and support -- I'm dropping both of them.

As for the remaining four makes, I've come to the decision that I want a driver's car, not something that will coddle me. So Mercedes and Lexus don't make the list. That leaves us with BMW and Infiniti... but that's a story for another day.

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