I love auto shows for the many, many activities for car enthusiasts. Messing with Ford's "intelligent" robot. Doing the Ride and Drives. Getting free coffee mugs. Questioning auto show models about the products they're standing next to. Collecting all the brochures I can only for my sister to later use them for scrapbooking.
But I'm not going to discuss any of that in this list. Instead, I'm going more in-depth, namely determining who will buy the vehicles debuted at major auto shows, since many automakers have been expanding into new segments of the market. This will involve questioning the car companies' judgment and contrasting them with my portrait of the "model" customer of each car, which will endear me to the product planners of the world.
After all, product planners have gotten their business cases and ideal customers very wrong before. For instance, buyers of the Honda Element. The Chevrolet SSR, a vehicle which Bob Lutz has never mentioned in any of his books. The Mercedes-Benz CLA. Any Scion except the FR-S.
Therefore, I've selected five cars that were unveiled at the Los Angeles Auto Show this past week and make out the differences between the conceptual buyer (generated from market surveys and focus groups) and the actual buyer (the likeness generated by a history major).
Author's Note: Product planners, no hard feelings. I'm sure a lot of Excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations went into making market plans for these cars. I needed a good list to make some entertainment out of the week's events. There's nothing like seeing the answers to questions nobody's ever asked on auto show turnstiles.
Acura RLX Sport Hybrid
The Supposed Buyer: For the person considering the midsize luxury hybrids like the Lexus GS450h or Mercedes-Benz E400 Hybrid, or V-8 luxury cars like the BMW 550i and Audi S6. Never mind the fact that not many people buy them. That'll mean the very few baby-boomers on the younger end of the scale who care about the environment or people whose RL leases are up.
The Actual Buyer: Any wealthy buyer who has stuck to Honda product through and through, scared of BMW service cost and perception. Think ZDX owners (or more likely, lessees) who wish to stay loyal to Acura but want the most expensive car in the showroom. Either that or they're just getting the RLX because the least expensive Tesla Model S doesn't have enough of a range for their needs.
The Supposed Buyer: Anyone who bought a Murano CrossCabriolet but decided it wasn't big enough and needed a retractable hardtop. If that's 1% of CrossCab buyers, that's maybe 10 people. Or perhaps someone who can afford the $250 non-refundable fee for a background check so they can test drive the car. After all, what do the customers think they're buying? A Bugatti Veyron!?
The Actual Buyer: No one. Despite the website proclaiming a 12 to 18 month waiting list. Seriously. In that case, it will be the company that liquidates Youabian that'll be stuck with it. Then, look for someone to buy it at auction as a prop to be featured in Kanye West's next music video. After all, he does need to one-up "Mercy." Maybe he should call the video "Bankruptcy" while riding in it in the music video.
Nissan Juke NISMO RS
The Supposed Buyer: A person who liked the Juke-R but couldn't afford it, and dismissed the normal Juke NISMO because it wasn't fast and/or bonkers enough. Past Sentra SE-R owners who have kids on the way and need a "crossover." Non-conformists who want to stand out from the numerous MINI Countryman John Cooper Works cars in the parking lot and spend a lot less money.
The Actual Buyer: As above, but maybe no more than 100 of those people exist. As a result, Nissan will have to appeal to hot hatchback buyers with numerous ads and test drive events. That means getting Ford Focus ST, high-end Fiat 500L, and Volkswagen GTI buyers who want all-wheel-drive. Also, there might be a few people who would turn an AWD Juke RS into a rally car...
The Supposed Buyer: Someone who didn't think the Hyundai Equus was anonymous enough and decided the Kia would be even better. Buyers who went to their high school reunions in their Cadenzas and weren't noticed like that TV spot promised they would, and therefore believe that the K900 will make a larger statement. These are the same people who'll buy the K900 because it sounds high-end.
The Actual Buyer: Teams of speed-crazed men who want to break Ed Bolian's cross-country record because the CL55 has high service and customization costs. (I am not actually encouraging this.) Because let's face it, when someone calls you in for the excessive speed, they almost certainly won't call your car a Kia. Which will mean you'll cross the country in under 28 hours and 50 minutes. Especially with the V-8 engine.
The Supposed Buyer: Boxster owners who had kids but still want the Porsche experience despite a manual transmission not being available. And people who can't afford a Cayenne who have always wanted a Porsche SUV for whatever reason. People getting out of their 3-Series/C-Class/A4/X3/GLK/Q5 lease who will pay the insane lease rates just to keep up with their co-workers and neighbors.
The Actual Buyer: Somewhat successful salespeople who need to showcase what their bonus went towards since the Audi Q5 is too common (and doesn't have sideblades). Customers who don't have to fund college educations or kids with trust funds. Or much more likely, industrious individuals who will buy them at dealers across the United States and promptly ship them to Asia for a quick profit.
So what other customer profiles have the product planners gotten wrong this year?
Satish Kondapavulur runs Clunkerture, named because "Clunker.com" was $82 at auction and would've taken 30% out of the balance of his Eagle Vision for LeMons fund. In between contemplating cross-country runs, he spends much of his time attempting to convince others that his MkV Jetta 2.0T Wolfsburg is indeed a sports sedan.
First photo credit to Jalopnik. Rest of photographs courtesy respective manufacturers.