Iain Cameron's Diary
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2006-10-11 - 6:34 a.m.

A questionnaire has arrived for completion this week for the Valencia meeting of high level experts and I have started to marshall my so-called high level expertise in answering it. Part of my expertise has to be on knowing who else to ask. Part of the problem is that the european auto industry is a really big spender on R&D – that’s why it dominates premium and luxury car markets and why its good at coming up with new forms of car like the MINI or the Espace. European cars on average have more R&D per unit – well over a thousand dollars for each car. So if you ask in general terms what needs to be done to get more innovation the answer is not straightforward. But I imagine I will learn quite a bit from trying to answer the point.

In particular the eurocrats are asking about the role of regulation in promoting innovation – this is a really complex subject. Obviouslly businesses tend to think there is too much euro-regulation. At the same time you cant expect europe to migrate to a low carbon hydrogen economy without a certain amount of regulation given that we all know hydrogen is dangerous stuff and wouldn’t want the regional hydrogen storage tanks anywhere near our houses. And there is little doubt that if regulations are done in the right way they can be a stimulus to innovation.

I have been sending my two recent papers – one on niche vehicles and the other on skills – also the first sketches on the Valencia questionnaire to various contacts. I think this is called networking. Keith – my office-mate – is also off networking these two days which means fewer jokes in working hours. Phil the analyst from the dti dropped in and let me download one of his spreadsheets drawn from published accounts of car companies operating in the UK and we talked about different kinds of brand appeal.

Since working on the niche-vehicle sector I have been thinking more about the emotional appeal of different cars – why is it I like the classic Land Rover so much – its partly because it has featured in really good holiday activities like riding round the bush looking at dangerous wild animals?

I realised yesterday that Land Rover had a another stroke of genius as they extended the core idea. Obviously it was good move to come up with the Range Rover but the interesting step is the next one – because it was only at this point that Land Rover realised that they needed to create Land Rover as a brand. The vehicle in question became the Land Rover Discovery and originally it was going to be called something else. This vehicle has a really interesting history always being a kind of less favoured child relative to the classic Land Rover – now called Defender – and the Range Rover – which are the iconic vehicles. But when you look eg on wikipedia at how the Discovery has progressed you can see that the concept ‘Land Rover Discovery’ has been managed and developed very cleverly.

I am getting more interested in the SUV market not least in the United States – partly because vehicle manufacturers are getting so focused on particular segments. The classic niche SUV comes from Porsche and this was a brilliant brand extension – so brilliant that its now available as a case study from a US university. In fact the more I think about it the more I can see the similarity between Porsche and Land Rover – both firms are built around extremely durable post WW2 design ideas.


But a load of other SUV new designs have appeared and keep on appearing and when you read about them the designers talk in terms of ever smaller demographics eg middle aged couples with no children but two dogs. I am also fascinated by the marriage between Silicon Valley product development ideas and niche vehicle engineering in Norwich to make a high performance electric car for California. It is branded under the name of a Hungarian technologist who innovated in electric technology rather like Edison.

Jaguar is another very interesting case – which in my view tends to be badly misunderstood. I think they have had a lot of bad luck. I am particularly interested in the XJ which is the largest Jaguar – the one that an ambassador might use. There is an equivalent high end version of Honda which goes by the name Acura – something we hear very little about as its main focus is the USA. I am getting to like the XJ but this is partly because its an ultra-niche.

The standard line on Jaguar comes from Mona Lisa which was on TV recently and came across as the great british gangster movie. When Bob Hoskins comes out of prison he gets his Jaguar back from Robbie Coltrane who has been looking after it. The accusation against contemporary Jaguars is that were Hoskins in prison now he wouldn’t get Coltrane to look after any of the current models – I am just not sure that’s true – I can see it happening with the XJ – but the surrounding details would be different.

I was talking to James about SUVs in the Ukraine – there s a lot of SUV advertising on the TV there. As far as I can make out SUVs in that market have a lot to do with male values. For example if you have a bright yellow Hummer then you are not a person to tangle with. If you are still very powerful but slightly more civilised then it might be a Range Rover. BMWs are for the wives of powerful men. There s a style of Hummer driving in Moscow that ignores traffic lights – if you have a green light and you see a bright yellow Hummer in your path its not a good idea to rely on the strength of your insurance company.

Someone told me at the weekend that the C3 is a boy-racer car – I have passed this intelligence onto Mrs C who says she will drive accordingly.

i have had a Corolla for a few weeks. I read yesterday that Toyota have built 32 million Corollas but it doesnt make it any less fun to drive.

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