The Cons of Automotive Marketing...
Before you all start to consider me an idiot and flame me with a bunch of comments about how great marketing is and the way it has influenced our lives for the better, let's just review a couple of examples to support my "marketing can be evil" theory.
The first thing that comes to mind when thinking about the way marketing has diluted an invention is obviously the Mini. The original car, as it was envisioned by Sir Alec Issigonis, was the epitome of how a city car should look, feel, handle and most of all cost. It had more than 80% of the floorpan available as passenger space and an overall size not that bigger than that of current smart fortwo. Its ability to (carefully) squeeze four passengers, their (tiny) luggage and a bottle of Gordon's Gin in each of the storage spaces found on the doors was considered genius and probably inspired many car makers afterwards.
One of the reasons for the space-efficient design were the very small wheels, which were pushed as far as possible towards each corner of the car. Coincidentally, this technical solution, along with the low weight, also made the Mini prone to fantastic handling. This made it success after success in rallying. Then came marketing, which transformed the tiny fuel-efficient and space-saving automobile into a cultural icon on wheels that "can really go" and haul gold in "The Italian job".
Now, probably few of you will argue when I say that the BMW-owned MINI is as connected to the original as a Homo Sapiens is to a Java Man. If one was to meet with the other face to face, there would be more than one lifted eyebrow from each character. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love the new MINI - especially in Cooper S guise – but it should probably have a different name/badge. There's almost nothing cost-effective, space-saving or cheap about it, which kind of makes a completely different car riding on the waves of hype created by its predecessor.
Another example of how marketing can completely change the destiny of an automotive product is the Volkswagen New Beetle. It switched from an air-cooled Boxer engine situated in the rear to a range of water-cooled inline powerplants positioned in front of the cockpit. Apart from some general design cues, the New Beetle has next to zero in common with the original "People's Car", starting with its lack of affordability in comparison.
The same can be said by a number of other "retro" cars, including the chic and somewhat recently "reborn" Fiat 500, or the 'merican trio of 1970s revivals – the Mustang, the Challenger and the Camaro.
Don't get me wrong now, I'm not anti-retro, I'm just anti-brainwashing. Don't mess up a product just because the marketing department is telling you to do so. In fact, this rant is not even about the pro or anti-retro movement.
To be more explicit, let's take a look at the Mercedes A-Klasse for a second – or the real "Baby Benz", as some call it. Back in 1997, the A-Klasse was the second ever front-wheel drive Mercedes in history (after the short-lived V-Klasse) and the first mini-car in the world to feature standard electronic stability control. It was also the first car to synthesize all the qualities (ahem... except the affordability) of the original Mini with the safety and comfort of a modern vehicle.
Just like the Mini, it had the wheels pushed far into each corner of the car, while over three quarters of the vehicle's length could be used as passenger space. The engine was slanted and in the unfortunate event of a frontal impact it would slide under the passenger compartment thanks to the innovative "double-floor" design. In other words, it made a highly futuristic concept a reality.
After two not-too-shabby-as-far-as-sales-go generations, what do money-hungry marketing people at Stuttgart say? "How about ve no longer make ze A-Klasse as it is and instead focus on a regular hatchback, just like everyone else?" Apparently, that idea caught on and the third generation of a highly innovative car will be numbed and dumbed down, just to pursue the same market niche as almost everyone else in the business.
In other words, what I'm actually saying is that most of the time marketing destroys innovation. This probably happens because the herd instincts are stronger than the force, and most marketing offices are packed with studies that show "what the public needs/wants". Most of the times though, there's quite a big difference between the individual and the general public. We might be sheep as a whole, but we're humans individually, so marketing doesn't always have the perfect recipe for success.