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Carmakers turn to niche marketing

November 23, 2010
Elements of mass marketing and boutique commerce are being combined by the auto industry to exploit every available niche for sales of new cars and trucks. The approach takes some aspects of conventional mass production, rejects numerous others and applies boutique mystique to the slimmed-down mass-market body, according to an article in the Detroit News. Changes in manufacturing and marketing coincide with profound changes in other automotive thinking. No longer is it assumed that a sports car means the same thing to everyone, or that a pickup truck is for workers or a minivan is for moms, or that all people want the same thing in an SUV. Concepts of "economy" and "luxury" have changed, as well. The 2004 Suzuki Verona, for example, might seem like an economy car to people who believe Suzuki Motor Corp. builds cheap automobiles as a sideline to selling hot motorcycles. But Suzuki thinks it has identified a group of buyers who want what the company calls "affordable luxury." Those are buyers who like nice things, but who are willing to pay only so much to get them. They want a maximum return on a minimum investment. The 2004 Chrysler Pacifica is the product of similar collaborative efforts to mine a niche. DaimlerChrysler found a potentially lucrative negative-a group of Americans who did not want a minivan, SUV or station wagon. Instead, they wanted something like an SUV, in terms of the high seating position; and something with the carrying capacity of a minivan, the utility of a station wagon and the ride of a family sedan. Prospective Pacifica buyers, DaimlerChrysler executives theorized, also did not want a Mercedes- Benz-one of DCX's premier automobiles. Pacifica buyers preferred to "buy American." But they also want a touch of Mercedes-Benz class.