Test Driving the Competition

Since I got my driver’s license almost 15 years ago, I’ve had seven different vehicles. Each had a personality and thinking about them triggers entertaining memories. There’s something so liberating about getting in a vehicle and driving wherever I want. I suppose that sounds completely American, but I can’t seem to help myself. I love driving.

I’ve driven both import and domestic vehicles. Right now, I’m driving domestic, but that’s no guarantee I’ll choose the same the next time. And it appears I’m not the only one looking beyond the Big Three. This past week saw reports indicating more imports were sold in July than domestics. (link)

Combined, the U.S. automakers—General Motors, Ford Motor and the Chrysler Group unit that is being sold by DaimlerChrysler—reported a 19 percent decline in sales in July versus a year earlier, compared to single-digit declines or even modest gains reported by most overseas automakers in the period.

The sales left the domestic brands with only 48.1 percent of U.S. sales, down 4 percentage points from a year earlier and off of the previous low, set in June of this year, of 50.2 percent.

I remember the debates about buying American-made versus foreign, a moot issue with companies like Hyundai and Toyota building U.S. factories. That argument is especially entertaining with domestic companies like GM building cars in Mexico. Even more frustrating for domestics, imports are often seen as being “greener” than their competition. Models like the Prius have captured our attention, leaving Ford and other domestics scrambling to offer “green” models.

The debate feels like it’s shifted. There’s less discussion about loyalty, except among the most die-hard customers, and more conversation about which brand gives you the best experience. Some companies are taking advantage of this switch. For example, Saturn, a GM brand, offered test drives of the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord at its dealerships. (link)

Of course, by making the competition available to drive, Saturn runs the risk of shoppers favoring the competition. “It’s a risk we’re willing to take. We don’t think it will happen,” Thomson said. Sixty percent of Saturn purchasers are coming out of non-General Motors vehicles.

Saturn dared to compete against its biggest competition in front of the entire world, and it’s a dare that may benefit Saturn in the long run. How many other companies would benefit from offering a direct comparison against the competition? How many companies would dare to be bold like Saturn?



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August 2007
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