Are Luxury Car Brands Getting a Bit Too “Common”?


Lucy Archibald | June 16, 2010

Are luxury car brands selling out at their own, long-term expense?

A competitive global market and increasingly stringent fuel-economy regulations, means that it has now become common practice for car companies to add “in-between” models and smaller, more efficient cars, in an effort to ensure the broadest consumer appeal. For mid-range companies this is not only a positive move, but an imperative one. However auto-expert, Peter Loeser believes that it is a more risky move for more established luxury brands: “Generally associated with a certain amount of uniqueness and exclusivity, some of the premium names are becoming a bit too… common.”

Audi has certainly become established in the ‘middle lane’ with its range of sedans, and plans to roll out several more models in the next few years. BMW has had a three-tiered structure for decades in the form of the 3,5,7 series. Recently they have also added the small 1 series, which aims to convey the legendary German BMW personality in a more compact form. But it is the SUV market where they have been expanding most fully.

These developments seem pretty organic for brands which have always positioned themselves at an accessible yet premium level. What is more surprising is Aston Martin’s partnership with Toyota to build a tiny car which will be called the Cygnet. Even the name is a far cry from the sexy, macho, 007 image Aston Martin usually projects! Are they risking too much in the name of product diversification?

Selling affordable cars at high volumes has never been Aston Martin’s strategy, and they seem to be running the risk, if they attempt to adopt that strategy now, of alienating the consumers who would potentially be attracted to their luxury vehicles. Equally, while brands like BMW and Aston Martin have built a reputation around engineering and technical prowess, there is no doubt that customers have paid a premium for the brand’s equally carefully ‘engineered’ image.

The debate shares several parallels with the discussions surrounding Valentino’s "couture t-shirt”, which, in stark contrast with the couture dresses which make up the brand’s DNA, was priced at a mere $430. The difference, perhaps, is that the number of items of clothing a woman has in her wardrobe versus the number of cars an individual owns, renders each individual piece of clothing less of a definitive lifestyle statement. One cannot be playful with a choice of car in the same way that Sarah Jessica Parker’s Sex and the City character Carrie Bradshaw made mixing Dior with thrift shop finds, a witty, yet luxurious fashion statement. $430 is an exorbitant price for a t-shirt, even an extraordinarily beautiful one, so Valentino’s elite image remains intact, even if purist couture-lovers may feel momentarily betrayed. On the other hand, is a ‘cheap’ and not very glamorous car made by an expensive and glamorous manufacturer, not just a ‘cheap’ and not very glamorous car that makes the manufacturer look just a little less glamorous too?

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