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Car Buyer's Guide: Brands target niche markets
By Jack Biddle • 23/05/2015
Don’t judge a vehicles quality or desirability on sales figures alone
As the end of each month rolls over, the big players in the new vehicle industry normally take a deep breath and wait for those all-important total sales numbers to be accumulated and released for public consumption.
For the winners, it’s normally an opportunity for their marketing teams to take advantage of a positive result. For the other high volume sellers, it can also mean work for the marketing teams as well, but in this case it’s how well they can put a positive spin on not standing on the top of the podium.
For some of the more niche players in the new car industry however it’s simply business as usual. Yes, they have specific targets to meet but they don’t play the high numbers game and are happy to stay clear of that highly competitive bubble where success is measured in sheer volume.
Obviously the luxury brands are never going to sell in huge numbers but they still draw their own swords and battle amongst themselves for a share of the market. And like the big sellers, their marketing teams are never backward at coming forward when sales are going well, and they have a good month.
So while the new vehicle industry stands united on many common issues, it also travels down independent pathways and measures success quite differently at times.
Subaru is a good example of a niche player who positions itself just to the side of the mainstream passenger vehicle market. Its market share year to date sits at around 2 per cent, which means its rubbing shoulders with the likes of Mercedes Benz, BMW and Audi on the sales ladder and a long way off the top dog Toyota, who hold around 15 per cent market share currently.
While those figures would make some senior management within the industry nervous, it’s all smiles at the Subaru Head Office in Auckland.
Wallis Dumper the Managing Director of Subaru of New Zealand says “Fuji Heavy Industries (FHI) are not like the big brands. They are basically an engineering company who run things quite differently," he says.
"The plants in Japan already run at almost 100% capacity so we get a very limited production allocation. As a result, we are a niche brand here and Kiwi buyers who are experience seekers or those looking to consciously find an alternative to the mainstream brands, are our main target audience.
"FHI are also extremely proud of their heritage and technology and as a result are very reluctant to increase and move production away from Japan.
"From a technical point of view, Subaru’s big point of difference is their unique boxer engine design (over 15 million engines have been produced to date) and Symmetrical All-Wheel-Drive which is designed to get you further than just back and forth to work. It can transport you to a place you’d rather be. But maybe even more importantly, Subaru will always be the car for those who respect our engineering and dare to be different.
"It’s not all plain sailing however; we work very hard to get the model mix correct as there are no second chances when placing orders with the factory. Vying for a much higher spot on the market share ladder is not our long term aim. It really is more about providing the best experience for existing owners and those new to the Subaru brand," he says.
After driving the all-new Outback range recently I can fully appreciate the qualities of this one model alone. It has struck the perfect balance between a SUV and Wagon and has the ‘X’ factor in terms of quality and drivability.
This is a hot contender when it’s 2015 Car of the Year Awards time is my early prediction.
Another brand which has taken a different approach to the new vehicle market in is Honda. They have seen their market share fall away in recent times, and currently sit in tenth place on the passenger car ladder with a 4 per cent market share.
Honda currently owns the one-price-policy space in the new car market with no discounting and identical prices throughout the country.
“Our focus is to continue to raise Honda model awareness in New Zealand, and regain market share from providing quality product at the best value,” says Nadine Bell, the General Manager of Marketing.
Honda lists four key points of difference when marketing their product. They are:
Equity: Fair price to all. No disadvantage to Government, corporates and rental car companies who typically have much greater purchasing power.
Transparency: Everyone pays the same.
Consistency: No run-out deals or “Everything must go!” sales. Better resale values and confidence to buy when it suits the purchaser.
Value for money: Honda buyers get a reliable, high specification, high quality car for a reasonable price.
So there you have it. Consumers are really spoilt for choice and can choose a brand and model based on a number of different criteria.
Contrary to what each individual new vehicle distributor may say, there are no clear right or wrong options. The important point is buyers look at the bigger picture and not just sales figures alone.