Thursday, December 9, 2021

Matt Prior: How to survive as a premium manufacturer

Which, as Infiniti has found in Europe, is a problem. How do you convince people that your car is worth spending more than average money on? The easiest way is to be German or British or Italian and to have been doing it for a century already. Then you can claim that you’re ‘the ultimate driving machine’ or ‘engineered like no other car’. Which is fine. If it’s still true. 

But here’s the thing: what if it isn’t? Or, at least, what if it’s true for some of your cars but very much not true for others. Because while it’s irresistible for ‘normal’ car makers to try to sell cars in the premium market, it’s similarly tempting, for makers of hitherto posh cars, to try to sell them to people who previously couldn’t afford them. 

So if you want to lease a Mercedes-Benz or an Audi for not much more than £200 a month, you can. Or, in other words, give up a daily latte and a Ford Fiesta, and you can probably have an Audi A1. Doing that doesn’t sound so premium at all – and if you’ve sat in an A1, it probably doesn’t feel it, either. 

And so Audi will keep making R8s and Mercedes will keep making G-Classes because they need to keep reminding you that, deep down, they make top-end cars, even when, quite a lot of the time, they don’t. And I suspect the world’s ordinary manufacturers will keep trying, and, quite often, failing, to find ways of pushing above that line, because they don’t make cars that command six-figure prices and whose performance or engineering we go gooey about. So we’ll never quite buy the fact that a DS is an Audi rival even if it looks different and feels better inside. 

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But the lines between the premium and the ordinary have never been more blurred. And while there’s a lot to be gained, if you’re Infiniti or DS, by trying to step above it, if we start to see the reality for what it is, it strikes me there’s a lot to lose for premium car makers who step below the line, too, and expose the whole charade for what it is. 

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