10/06/2014

Cross platform branding

By Philip Crewe

Many car companies form joint ventures when they want to produce a new model of car. Doing so allows them to share the risks as well as the rewards and to benefit from economies of scale.

In 2005 Toyota and PSA (Peugeot and Citroën) launched just such a vehicle (the Aygo, 108 and C1 respectively). This was always meant to be a budget city car, designed from the wheels up to be as cost effective as possible. They even built a brand new factory in the Czech Republic specifically to produce it. It went on to sell very well, but as European tastes demanded more and more standard equipment (aircon, sat nav, parking sensors) and endless customisation (paint finishes, rim options, graphics etc.) the car gradually lost its utilitarian focus.

This year the three cars have been completely refreshed. The result is an interesting lesson on the difficulties of communicating disparate brand values on a common platform and responding to industry trends in a brand-appropriate way.

Peugeot  Citroen  

Of all the French car brands Peugeot is the least chic- their cars are known for being good fun to drive but also reliable and somewhat staid. For the last fifteen years they’ve fought against this image but have ended up with some pretty pug-ugly results.  However, with the new 108 they seem to have finally found a balance between being funky and dependable.

Citroën is the hands down winner out of the three brands, a small budget city hatch lends itself so naturally to their 2CV-derived brand values of cheap yet fun no frills motoring. The C1’s face is personable yet not comic and the blacked out A pillars reference the popular DS3 (their Mini rival).

Toyota is the worlds largest automotive company; its success is due to a reputation for reliability at a time when European cars went rusty whilst still on the forecourts. They have historically loaded their cars with a lot of extra equipment and priced them very competitively.

And yet the new Toyota Aygo does not feel quite right for the brand. The face of the car is the main problem; the X shape is an attempt to get in on the custom colour panel trend (started by mini) – but it should have been done in a Toyota-like way. Back in the 90s when Max Power magazine was king, teenagers would black out various bits of their car bumpers in order to make their Citroen Saxo’s stand out in the collage car park.

The Aygo looks like a badly considered homage to this trend. The black panel linking the wing mirror and the front light is particularly ill-considered. Looking at the car you would have no idea that consumers choose Toyota because of its reliability, good standard of equipment levels and value for money.

But despite this, the fact is that in the UK, Toyota's Aygo has consistently outsold its Peugeot and Citroën siblings, and the new generation one will probably do the same. Toyota’s brand values are so strong they can afford
one dodgy front bumper graphic, but with the Chinese car industry about to burst into international markets, now is not the time for Toyota to risk diluting its brand identity. 

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