DS: an object lesson in how to create a premium brand

Posted by cdnlive April 24th, 2012

The DS Numero 9 captured much of the pre-Beijing press coverage thanks to the ‘leak’ of its pre-show Parisian photo shoot and Laurent Nivalle’s seductive video. It’s hitting the mark with the public and press who’ve seen it here in Beijing. You can read Guy Bird’s viewpoint here if you want to know more.

But it’s worth noting the context it sits in, the highly-impressive DS stand, which stands apart from the Citroën stand in a separate show hall altogether. At dinner last night with senior members of the Citroën design team I learned much more about the plans for the DS brand. Four cars in to DS and many have started to judge Citroën’s upmarket sub-brand as having a level of success, yet the team know that for it to truly succeed and feel authentically premium it has numerous challenges. The first is to offer something authentically French – an idea of premium that’s totally different to what the Germans offer. Then there’s the need to establish a series of themes and design cues that are recognizably DS and not Citroën. Part and parcel of that is a consistent message given out not just by the cars themselves, but through all methods of marketing and communication.

Thierry Metroz told us that to this end, the design team are working very closely with Citroën’s marketing and communications teams. So for the Beijing show, the DS stand was developed primarily by design. The striking sculpture that hangs over the DS Number 9 Concept was commissioned by them too. And they’ve made sure the brand is perceived to be playing to national strengths of high-fashion design and artisan creativity, by featuring an atelier DS in one corner of the stand, with two craftspeople hand-stitching and trimming leather throughout the show.

Carlo Bonzanigo,  head of Advanced Design and who led the DS Numero 9 project, also stressed the importance of the DS motif. This diamond-shaped graphics, which contains both the D and the S relates to the DS logo itself. It is being spread as a graphic around the various cars and in Beijing is employed heavily in the design of the stand. Most apparent is the beautiful wall of glass crystal diamonds that hangs as a backdrop to the DS3. It’s carried through into a range of luggage and accessories we’re currently coveting more than the cars.

Given that we now understand Citroën’s plans to separate the DS brand from Citroën altogether – dropping the double Chevron altogether from the cars in the future – it’s hardly a surprise they’re working so hard to develop and control this image. As a lesson in how to create yourself a premium brand, it’s highly impressive and more importantly it’s clearly working – the Chinese seem to absolutely love it.

by Joe Simpson

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comment: Sport, luxury or both?

Posted by cdnlive April 24th, 2012

The Rolls-Royce and Ferrari stands sit alongside one another in the halls of the Beijing auto show. I took these two pictures less than a minute apart, having stood for quite a while watching the throngs of photographers milling around the two stands.

While it’s far from a scientific observation, I thought it interesting how much more popular the Rolls-Royce stand was proving. Literally hundreds of Chinese were queueing up to have pictures taken by friends of them with the Phantom or Ghost in the background. Yet at Ferrari, it was comparatively quiet.

In Europe, I’d judge the opposite to be true, you’re typically unable to get close to even the barrier of the Ferrari stand at the average motor show. Which made me ask the question – in China, what value does sporting pedigree have? Ferrari would probably say they are a sport-luxury brand. But in China, Ferrari’s sporting and motorsport heritage is much less well know. Given that so much of what we know and value the brand for in Europe and North American markets is connected to this motorsport history, does that mean a sport-orientated luxury or premium brands carries less value here?

By Joe Simpson

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Imported heritage

Posted by cdnlive April 24th, 2012

The infancy of the Chinese car industry dictates that the general public has zero perception of what brands – some of which have been around for ten times longer than this country’s entire mass car market – have achieved.

When westerners think of MG or DS, images of historic, evokative cars appear, yet here they are simply two letters. Even Ferrari has none of its mystique here. And so to contextualise brands and their new products, many brands are educating visitors of their past glories. While Ferrari, Lotus and MG use video montage to create an impression of their histories, Citroen’s solution is far more appealing – simply park a gorgeous DS 23 Pallas on the stand.

By Owen Ready

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Trends: Beijing motorshow white flowers edition

Posted by cdnlive April 24th, 2012

Why write about flowers on a car design site? A passing interest in floristry aside, it’s worth casting your eye idley around a show to see what’s happening in terms of stand and fashion trends. In Geneva, we noticed some very expensive looking, rather lovely arrangements of lillies on the Maserati and Rolls Royce stands. Here, literally every stand is decked out with vases of white flowers. Why? Well, unless someone happened to misplace the decimal point when ordering flowers, we suspect the reason brands are going for white blooms is that they convey freshness, purity, clarity and a level of real premium-ness.

 

 

The notable exception to the rule here is Infiniti, who’s stand architecture, stand staff uniforms and flowers, is resplendent in purple. It certainly helps them stand out.

By Joe Simpson

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Concept Style Coupe: Finally, a Mercedes we can admire again

Posted by cdnlive April 24th, 2012

It has not escaped the attention of Stuttgart that, in the recent past, we’ve been far from the biggest fans of Mercedes-Benz’s design direction. So hurrah for a car that we can finally get behind and sing the praises of.

The Concept Style Coupe is a thinly veiled preview of an upcoming four door coupe, which will slot into the Mercedes range below the C-Class.

So what’s to like? For a start, despite being front wheel drive (it’s based on the A-class platform), its proportions are good. Until now, only Audi’s managed to pull off convincingly premium proportions on front-wheel drive platforms. Secondly, while it’s still busy, the surface language on this car really works. There’s a lovely teardrop form in plan, which cleverly works with the side profile, where we get hints of the banana-like shoulder line of the original CLS.

Most importantly though, this car is supposedly 95 percent production ready. Only details will change when the production car (CLA?) arrives we’re told. But the critical bit is that this will slot in (and be priced) below the C-class. Which means that, if Mercedes manages to bring it to market with less compromise than has befallen the 5-door A-class, it could – yet again – give birth to a new and highly influential segment of C-car sized four door coupes. Watch this space.

By Joe Simpson

Tags: , , , , , , ,

What came first, the Viaggio or the Dart?

Posted by cdnlive April 24th, 2012

Its name may sound ill-advised to English speakers such as myself, but the Fiat Viaggio is more significant than its suggestive name.

The car itself is, in fact, completely unremarkable, bringing nothing new to either the C-segment sedan market, nor the Fiat brand. What it represents is the first product from Fiat/Chrysler that spans two brands (it’s the sister car to the Dodge Dart) by more than simply attaching Lancia badges to Chryslers and vice versa.

It’s clearly something we’re going to see far more of as new models are co-developed and, while it appears to work reasonably well in this this case, makes us wonder how such as strategy will work in terms of design across such seemingly disparate brands. Is it possible, through relatively minor changes, to make a car that can genuinely feel either a Lancia or a Chrysler, for example?

By Owen Ready

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Lamborghini Urus: Right turn or wrong direction?

Posted by cdnlive April 23rd, 2012

It’s hardly a revelation to write that the Lamborghini Urus (the Italian brand’s SUV concept revealed here in Beijing) has received a more favourable response than the Bentley Exp 9F with which it notionally shares a platform.

But what may surprise you is that, in the real, this concept is shot through with a deep and impressive level of execution and a set of volumes which are not at first apparent from the photos. For those who were privileged enough to get a peep inside, the interior is really worthy of note. It features some of the same carbon-based material structure we first saw on the Sesto Elemento (and which Lamborghini wants to ‘own’) on the centre console and around the binnacle and works exceptionally well, thematically.

Reminding us from some angles of the BMW X6 and Range Rover Evoque (that low, wide rear view) you’ll not find us and the rest of the design world bemoaning this Lamborghini SUV for the same design failings leveled at the Bentley.

We have two reservations however. Firstly, can Lamborghini as a brand legitimately do an SUV? For two very different answers to that question, see Porsche or Ferrari’s stated aim: “we don’t make SUVs and never will.”

Secondly, while well executed, there’s a part of us that is sad this SUV appears to cement the loss of over-the-top drama and wildness that was once a Lamborghini hallmark. As the change from Murcielago to Aventador suggested and this appears to confirm, Lamborghini is growing up and calming down in its graphics and surface language. The question is, should it be? Or is this a wrong turn for the brand? Answers and opinions in the comments please…

By Joe Simpson

Tags: , , , , , ,

Citroen DS Numero 9 highlights

Posted by cdnlive April 23rd, 2012

Citroen announced its intention to launch three new DS models due for production at Beijing: an SUV, C-segment compact sedan and an as yet unknown large limousine-style car to sit above the DS5.

In the absence of those production vehicles, it whet showgoers’ appetites with the Numero 9 concept. According to head of advanced design Carlo Bonzanigo, the shooting brake-style large hatch with suicide doors “announces the new face of DS” with its 3D grille fusing into full LED headlamps. The car is large and long at 4930mm, but Bonzanigo says the Numero 9 is actually smaller than the current C6, only looking longer due to its low roofline.

Not based on any existing platform, he told CDN that it is “a true concept and design study” rather than a pre-production marketing exercise, although he did concede that his team had already investigated how a feasible production version could be made by adjusting the proportions suitably. Bonzanigo also said the car’s simple and elegant lines reflected Citroen’s desire “to separate the aesthetic universes of the two brands,” steering the mother brand Citroen more towards simple shapes and classic lines and to tone down the DS line too, making it “less overwrought by using warmer chrome finishes for example”. It’s a shame there’s no proper interior, but that aside, another accomplished Citroen concept.

By Guy Bird

Tags: , , , , ,

Range Rover Evoque – Victoria Beckham edition

Posted by cdnlive April 23rd, 2012

The naysayers have been numerous and vocal when it comes to Victoria Beckham’s involvement in the Range Rover Evoque as a brand ambassador. At Beijing 2012 Range Rover went one step further and revealed its “special version with Victoria Beckham”. But before your shudder to the very heels of your self-righteous colour and trim boots, fear not, it’s actually not that bad. Yes there’s some real rose gold plating on the grille, side and rear Evoque badging plus around the some of the interior knobs, but the rest of the additions are pretty subtle.

The cool satin matte paint finish and clear rear lights – the red circular surrounds were deleted at Victoria’s request – are credible additions and on the interior the semi-aniline leather seats and wonderful mohair carpet and mats are good enough to grace bare feet. According to the Range Rover design team Ms VB made a dozen or so visits to Land Rover’s Gaydon HQ and London to talk through the collaboration and was keen that the car wasn’t heavily branded with her name. The only reference to her involvement is a personally signed ‘care book’ in the glove box to match the bespoke luggage set in the boot.

Limited to 200 units worldwide and costing £79,995 it won’t be to everyone’s taste or wallet but then it’s not meant to be, and it’s certainly less corny and considerably more thoughtful than many other fashion/auto mash-ups.

Verdict: Logical, profitable, no brand killer, and better than feared.

By Guy Bird

Tags: , , , , ,

Beijing traffic chaos

Posted by cdnlive April 23rd, 2012

The Beijing motor show experience isn’t just about the show itself. Getting there deserves a mention too, for both good and bad reasons. Leaving my central Beijing hotel at 8am sharp in good time for a 9am show opening my journey quickly turned from the sublime to the ridiculous.

The sublime was easy to appreciate as the chauffeured Mercedes S-Class glided past the wonderfully futuristic Rem Koolhaas-designed CCTV building. Modern Beijing at its best. Unfortunately the ridiculous followed shortly afterwards as the car got nearer to the show, and the three-lane stream of traffic heading towards the show decided – in a bid to beat the traffic in front of them and almost en masse – to cross over into two of the three remaining lanes going in the other direction, blocking all but one lane of traffic for those unluckily enough to want to go mewhere else.

Monumental gridlock followed despite the best efforts of whistling traffic police and honking drivers until it became clear that walking the last mile for 20 minutes was highly preferable. So I did. Given this scenario is a carbon copy of 2008 – minus the torrential downpour – I should have learnt my lesson, but on a broader scale it sends out a terrible message about the chaos the car industry can create at its worst. I’ll be getting the subway back (taking a leaf out of my CDN colleagues‘ more sensible outward travel plans). Longer term, something needs to give. This automotive gold rush has downsides.

By Guy Bird

Tags: , , ,