New models galore at Thai Motor Show
The biggest car markets have traditionally been those countries which are most economically advanced, but this is changing fast. The citizens of such countries already have cars, so the market is effectively reduced to a replacement market, and enticing other manufacturers' customers with new and more improved models.
The biggest markets for the next few decades for automobiles, will be in countries getting rich quickly, where the percentage of people who have cars is still small.
The strength of the world's emerging economies was on display at the opening of the Thai Motor Show today. For the next 10 days, 170,000 people a day will visit the show, and despite the country having been largely under water for much of 2011, the Thai motor industry looks more buoyant than ever.
Organizers expect firm orders for "more than 15,000 eco-cars" to be made at the show, as the low excise duty on such models makes them far more affordable than ever before at just under 400,000 baht (US$13,000).
Mitsubishi and Suzuki launched cars which fit within the Thai Government's eco-car criteria at the show in the form of the Mitsubishi Mirage and an eco version of the Suzuki Swift.
The Mirage and the Eco Swift will compete in Thailand with the Nissan March and the Honda Brio.
The Mirage impressed me. It makes so much more sense for the Thai Government to move its its constituents to low emission vehicles quickly. The concept of electric vehicles is still a long way into the future in many parts of the world, and by offering considerably less excise duties on eco-friendly vehicles, the category has come to life and genuinely ecological gains will be made across the national car park.
The Mirage will be provided to different markets with either 1.0 and 1.2 liter, three-cylinder petrol engines with MIVEC engine technologies and a stop/start system.
The fuel consumption of the Mirage is startling - 4.5 l/100km for the larger engine, but put in the optional CVT ( an infinitely variable, computer-controlled transmission) and low resistance tires, and you should be able to get 3.3 l/100km from the car. Excellent economy, and the car will be available in Europe.
The highlight of the show each year is the amount of entertainment infused into the show with lavish song and dance numbers, acrobatics, the appearances of a wide range of pop stars, and a general theme of entertainment.
One of the prime drawcards of the show is the appearance of large numbers of very well trained promotional models - for some strange reason, Thailand has more models who know how to work with professional photographers in a show context than any other country - seemingly by a factor of ten or more.
Which means the Thai camera industry ought to be sponsoring the show because every member of the 1.7 million visitors to the show seems to have at very least a point-and-shoot camera, and usually much more professional gear - and the amateurs have a field day.
Many of the major concept cars shown for the first time in the last few months at "major" international shows such as Detroit, Tokyo and Geneva were on display.
Cars we have seen previously included the Nissan Townpod concept, Mercedes Benz' new Concept-A class and ML 250 CDI, Volvo's new V60 and Toyota's NS4 hybrid concept car and FT-EV III electric concept.
Toyota launched the all-new Camry with hybrid and petrol engine versions and showed the production version of the FT 86 concept.
Ford's Focus was the focus of its display. Thailand is one of the manufacturing hubs for Ford, and it displayed the local version of the new Focus with a two liter engine.
You might think that upmarket marques would struggle in an emerging country but not necessarily so.
When a country becomes prosperous, some folk are always much better at the game than others, and in Thailand, just as in Vietnam, China, Indonesia and Malaysia, some extraordinary wealth is being created, and there's a healthy market for luxury automobiles.
Accordingly, the Thai Motor Show often brings out brands you don't see in other major markets.
One such brand which has already been in Thailand for three years and is now seeking to expand globally is the little known Japanese brand Mitsuoka which used the Thai Motor Show to launch an updated version of one of its original and very successful models - a small car designed to look like a 1950s Jaguar, only modern.
Twenty years after the original ViewT (the Green car above), which has built a large and loyal cult following in Japan, the new version was unveiled at the show. That's the white one. Mitsuoka builds an interesting range of cars, with a number of models based on the design language of other famous marques.
The Orochi is a supercar - when it was originally shown at Tokyo Motor Show a decade ago, it was based on the Honda NSX. Much evolution has occurred since, and the Orochi still looks fantastic, though its motor is now a Toyota and much has changed underneath the fashionable body which can be had for around US$100,000.
There's also a Mitsuoka Himiko sports car which has old world styling but is decidedly modern at the same time, and it has wonderful workmanship like the Morgan it is most closely positioned to in the marketplace.
I've slipped in a few images of the Himiko and there are more in the image gallery.
Then there's a really lovely luxury sedan - it looks like a ... but it's a ... Galue. Yeah, I know the Japanese seem to come up with stoopid names for their cars, but let he who is without sin cast the first stone.
History shows you don't need to be any particular nationality to get to a position of power without the wisdom necessary to make a global judgement - the Peter Principal applies to all levels and competencies.
Aspiration is one of the key qualities that sets us apart from other primates, and indeed it might have been a useful adjective for the class of people Ford's value segmentation experts hoped to address with this particular sporty model.
Does not the phrase "looking through the wrong end of the telescope" seem to apply to Ford when it named a 63-horsepower subcompact hatchback shopping trolley after a bullet point on some marketing guru's chart - the Ford Aspire.
Then there's another Ford prizewinner - the Probe (perhaps this is an indication of some general maladjustment in the population or perhaps it's just me) which for some reason makes me think of proctologists and inappropriate jokes and yet they sold it thus in the land of bottom jokes and toilet-bowl-humour.
The customers obviously didn't want a Probe either - the year before it was discontinued, it was the worst selling model in a line-up of stinkers, a sporty car from the company that gave us the Mustang, the GT40/GT, Focus WRC, Shelby customs of every description and if there is a heaven, Henry will surely be waiting at the gate should any Ford executives get through.
Cultural ignorance is common to all nationalities. Local environments have bred many peculiar behaviors, norms and protocols - and failure to test the local environment is one of those histories which will repeat for those who are not attentive students of man's litany of marketing folly.
General Motors marketed its Chevrolet Nova into numerous Spanish speaking countries, before finding market resistance because the words "No Va" in the local language, mean "doesn't run."
Same deal for Buick when it discovered that French-speaking Canadian buyers didn't want to be seen driving a LaCrosse, because in local parlance, it meant something entirely different than they were hoping for - masturbation.
Of course, there are companies that are so microscopically focussed that no-one in the company steps back to see the forest for the trees - how did Swiss company Sbarro get its Assystem past all the gatekeepers necessary in any balanced company before it sends out press releases and pays large amounts of advertising dollars?
Who, for example, cannot spot which one of the of the Toyota Deliboy and Yamaha Pantryboy Supreme failed to appeal to the public? (answer: they both sucked).
And as much as I admire the edgy work of Rinspeed, what were they thinking when they named a concept the X-Dream?
Success often breeds the delussion of customer insight: that there is no need to test the bleeding obvious (which it often isn't); that an inappropriate demographic or psychographic or sufficiently large or balanced sample was tested; or the test results are simply ignored ... and valuable company brands were irreparably damaged.
Marketers have forever mixed up the buyer attributes they forensically dissect, with the buyer's self-perception - the Toyota Deliboy is an obvious candidate here, but there are so many over-reaching advertising-induced efforts that it's not surprising so many customers noticed the complete disdain with which they were being treated by a company hoping for their patronage - the Dodge Diplomat, Lincoln Versailles, Mitsubishi Carisma, Daihatsu Applause, Oldsmobile Achieva and the classic lipstick-on-pigs effort, naming a station wagon the Chevrolet Celebrity.
Then there was the Skoda Yeti which was named after wandering mythical monster, and ... we might run a top ten dumbest car and motorcycle names story if there's enough interest and contribution from the comments.
On the motorcycle side of things, all the likely suspects were there.
Honda owns the Thai motorcycle market, and manufactures many two and four-wheeled models in the Kingdom and some of its models, like those of Yamaha, now aimed exclusively in the retro area - retro bikes that capture the spirit of the famous Honda 125 cc racing bikes of the fifties and sixties.
Suzuki and Yamaha all showed new models and a few interesting concepts were on show.
Perhaps the biggest category bender we've ever seen from a major manufacturer is an off-road scooter - complete with semi-knobby tires and with a scooter frame reinforced to take the rigors of off-road. There's a full story coming in the near future on the bike.
Ducati showed the new Panigale (above) and Diavel (below).
Suzuki continued a long tradition with the Japanese warrior code by showing the Shogun - its Katana 1100 was one of the best selling bikes in the world a quarter century ago.
The bike is a ripper. If you think small bikes can't be fun when ridden sportingly, think again! Small bikes with light weight and modest power outputs are perfectly suited for city environments, and almost as much fun as the bigger bikes because they brake much faster, change direction much easier and carry higher cornering speeds. The Shogun looks very promising as a sports bike in countries limited to 125 or 200cc, and a 200cc version of the Samurai would be a sporting bike
Another to watch out for is the pimped out Zoomer X from Honda. It's a complete rethink of the scooter's looks, with a heavy metal attitude.