9 October 2007

How Does The Consumer Decide If Something Is Quality?


An excerpt of a recent discussion I had...

...the notion of 'nice' or 'quality' has come from the upper tier of vehicles, and not necessarily a marketing department- BMW, Mercedes, Audi, Jaguar, Cadillac, Lincoln and more recently Lexus. They're the ones who set the bar for perception of quality, and they're the ones who the 'lesser' models emulate when they gussy up their appearance for the mass market. Why else are vehicles being slathered in fake (and sometimes real) wood? Why else are vehicles being adorned with fake and real chrome touches on every touch point? Why else are car magazines and buyers harping about soft touch dashes? It's because all these little things used to be the exclusive domain of the luxury segment. So in a world where 260+ horsepower FWD family sedans have become the norm, how else do you make your car stand out? You ape some of the exclusive touches of the luxury market. You appropriate features that were once the domain of 100k+ cars. That's the easiest way isn't it? It costs a lot of money to engineer a car to perform and act like a midrange Mercedes- but it costs relatively nothing to add a few computer chips and electronic gadgets bought in bulk, or some plastic wood....
And this:

...it's sometimes very easy for the average consumer to feel a difference in materials- and having been trained by the luxury/sport models of the past as to what is expensive and what is cheap, if the materials don't feel like their perception of quality/expensive, they'll label it as such.

The Malibu appears to be a perfect example of quality dichotomy in my opinion- the DESIGN is wonderful, minus a few touches here and there. It's swoopy, it's stylish, it looks ergonomically friendly. However, in pictures (and the pre-pro I sat it), the materials don't look or feel 'right'. Is it cheaper than an Accord? I have no idea. Does it feel cheaper than an Accord to me? Definitely. Conversely, I think Audi has some very ugly interior designs- but when you sit in them, everything just feels right, and they feel expensive (whether they are or not I don't know).

Where it will end when it comes to feature/quality creep? I don't know. I think the auto industry is in a very strange period right now. In the 50's and 60's, style and power held sway over the market as far as 'luxury' and 'prestige' were concerned. Economy cars didn't look like luxury cars, and they certainly didn't have the power of luxury cars, and therefore there was a tangible line in the sand between markets- it's how Cadillac and Lincoln made their names right? Somewhere along the line, cheaper cars started becoming more stylish and powerful, and the line in the sand between markets became quality and comfort in addition to style and power- whether it was a tank of a Mercedes, or a well engineered BMW. But now, with improvements in manufacturing, computer aided design, and electronics and computers becoming commodities, the real world difference in quality and feature set between let's say a Lexus and a Chevrolet isn't that big. It's there, but for the average buyer, it's not noticeable.

So the question is, how will companies justify premiums for vehicles in the future? By and large all vehicles are safe, all vehicles are pretty good quality, all vehicles have more than enough power for day to day tasks, and it's getting to the point where the electronics exclusivity of the luxury market has been lost...

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

You need to get over your obsession with bashing GM cars. Its not good for your health.

Mags said...

Amazing that you got 'GM bashing' out of that article.

Bravo.

Anonymous 2 said...

So you sat in a new Malibu?

Mags said...

Funny you ask that- sat in a pre-pro, and just yesterday, sat in a production model up at Vaughan Mills in Vaughan.