Monday, November 2, 2015

Editorial: How Hard is it For a Brand to Change Its Image?

Once a company establishes an image with consumers, it tends to stick. Car manufacturers all have different images associated with them. For example, Toyota has been known for building reasonably priced, reliable, but boring vehicles. Volvo is known as a lead innovator in automotive safety technologies. Subaru is often regarded as the manufacturer for enthusiasts. However, not all manufacturers have had the good fortune of having a positive image attached to their name. How difficult is it for a manufacturer to shed their image?

Image courtesy of Logopedia
This question comes to mind because of a certain vehicle I encountered on the way to work one morning. That vehicle was the Cadillac CTS V-Sport, which is one step down from the full on CTS-V. Even though it is not powered by a rip-roaring supercharged V8, it is certainly no slouch. With a twin turbo V6 under its hood pumping 420 horsepower to its rear wheels, it is definitely not slow. This particular CTS V-Sport had a certain flair though. On its hindquarters was a D3 badge. For those unfamiliar with the name, D3 is a noted Cadillac tuner, known specifically for working on Cadillac's "V" line of cars. If the badge was any indication, it meant that this CTS V-Sport must have had some work done to it. As I pulled up next to it, I expected to maybe find a man in their 30s, possibly 40s, face adorned with aviator sunglasses. Instead, I found a man who was at least in his 60s, hunched over the steering wheel, looking like he was struggling to drive the car. The first thought that came to my mind was, "is all that effort Cadillac is putting into re-branding itself not working?"


For the longest time, Cadillac has generally been known as the gold standard car for senior citizens. Since the introduction of the first CTS sedan, along with its new "Art and Science" design language, Cadillac has been trying desperately to shed the imagine of being the car for the geriatric crowd. The new direction was initiated in hopes of drawing in younger customers in order to expand the customer base and hopefully grow sales. Over the years, my brother and I have test driven quite a number of Cadillacs. While we laud Cadillac's efforts to change their imagine, and often praise their new vehicles as taking the right steps to appeal to younger buyers, I often have to wonder if it is enough. More often than not, when I set foot into a Cadillac dealer, most of the customers look like they are at least in their 50s. Even with their "V" branded vehicles competing on the same playing field as cars from BMW's M division and Mercedes Benz's AMG division, most buyers still prefer to buy the German performance cars rather than an ATS-V or a CTS-V. And this is despite the fact that the automotive press seems to like the Cadillacs more.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia
While shedding a negative image clearly is not easy, if you look at the other end of the spectrum, it seems quite easy for a company to destroy its good image. Looking again at the whole "dieselgate" fiasco currently plaguing the Volkswagen group, their image as the "people's car" fell to "lying scumbags" incredibly quickly. With it uncovered that Volkswagen installed software that would only turn on emissions equipment during emission testing, people began to wonder what other secrets Volkwagen is hiding. The result of this fallout is a stop sale on all Volkswagen group vehicles equipped with their 2.0 liter diesel engine, including cars like the Jetta, Golf, and Audi A3, as well as a major loss of sales in their gasoline powered vehicles. Economists are already predicting that for the first time in a long time, Toyota will overtake Volkswagen as the global sales leader for this year. Clearly, it is going to take Volkswagen a lot of work in order to repair their image.

Readers, this is where I want you guys to chime in. Looking at the two examples I have given, what do you think needs to be done in order for these two companies to change their image? What can Cadillac do to further distance themselves from being considered the old person's car of choice? What can Volkswagen do to repair their image, and regain customer trust? Let me hear what you think in the comments or on Facebook.