Launching a new car or new model can have a tremendous impact on the network of dealers representing that Franchise.
Over the 50 or so years of my motor trade experience, some of the manufacturers recognized that and some less so.
In the early days the manufacturer would get the dealers into a hotel in somewhere like Newcastle or Glasgow. The MD would talk about the successes of the franchise and how lucky the assembled masses were to be representing such a fine product. Then they would probably reveal the new model by pulling back a curtain or removing a dust cover. You would then be give a brochure and probably a model of the car and sent on your way home to motivate the troops and wait for the first car to be delivered.
My earliest involvement with a new car being launched was with the Ford Anglia (the 105E) in 1959.
Dad ran the largest Ford dealership in Northern Ireland called R.E. Hamilton & Co Ltd.
I was 12 and my brother David 15 at the time and we both were pupils at Belfast Inst, a grammar school which was based right in the centre of Belfast.
On the morning of the new Anglia’s launch Dad arranged for one of his company parts vans to get parked up near the school’s entrance gates. It was virtually full of the new Anglia brochures and David and I were tasked to make sure every pupil entering or leaving school that day got an Anglia brochure.
David and I handed out well over a thousand brochures that day. Indeed, there was such a demand for them that after school we were able to up to 3 pence each (old money) per brochure, which supplemented the pocket money nicely.
The car was a fabulous success for Ford, the styling in particular was stunning for such a “bread and butter” model, with it unusual cut back rear window, lively engines and roomy interior. Dads Belfast dealership had the highest initial order take in the whole of the UK, and I would like to think that David and I had something to do with it.
Early lesson in marketing – spread the word and get the family involved in the decision-making process. (unfortunately, I wasn’t at this one)
One other Ford model launch was truly legendary.
In 1964, the Ford Mustang launch in America was seen as being one of the greatest car launches ever. A sceptical U.S. dealer network and their wives had been invited to some tropical West coast beach where they witnessed the evening launch of the stunning new Mustang – the world’s first ever ‘muscle car’.
And what an arrival!
The new cars were brought ashore hanging from U.S. army helicopters and onboard US navy landing craft amid an amazing light show and sound effects.
What a buzz for all who witnessed it!
Afterwards everyone had the opportunity to inspect the cars and were later entertained by none other than Frank Sinatra over their evening meal!
22,000 orders were taken on the launch day – and over 400,000 orders in the following twelve months!
Ford had set the standard for the industry by launching a significant car with significant style, and the results were sensational.
Some new car launches however, can be “different”.
Now Volvo is a wonderful car manufacturer with great people and I was proud to work with them when I first moved to England. They are serious people who make serious cars.
In 1990 Volvo launched the new 740 range to the UK dealer network in Sweden.
The car was very well received by all concerned as we were able to drive the car in and around Stockholm and were then asked to make our way back to our plush hotel to change, freshen up for drinks, the evening meal, and a star-studded cabaret which they were laying on.
Rumours were rife that the “star” act would be Elton John as apparently, he had just been touring in Sweden, so we were all looking forward to a great night.
I guess there were about 300 people, mainly men attending the doo. Initially, we were entertained by a brilliant comedian, followed by a Swedish pop group (no not Abba) and then it was time for the star act. I should add that by this time we had finished the meal and in true Swedish fashion, there had been no shortage of booze.
The comedian, who was also the MC came on and announced that the star act was – a female Finnish poet. Yes, a female Finnish poet!
Anyway, she came onto the stage, walking a bit like Dick Emery doing one of his female impersonations, and we all thought – brilliant – it’s your man!
But then she started to recite poetry in Finnish.
Now, I know that Swedes are in some quarters considered “high brow”, but to have poetry recited at that point to 300 fairly well oiled British motor traders was I think a case of “misjudging your audience”.
Unfortunately for the poor lady, the auditorium emptied almost completely in the first 10 minutes of her recital.
It was a case of what may be appropriate for the Swedes wasn’t necessarily appropriate for the British car dealers!
Porsche cracked what sold their cars very early on – let their cars get driven, and driven hard!
They knew exactly what appealed to their dealer network world wide, and designed their new car launches accordingly: booze, fast cars and more booze!
During the early years of my involvement with Porsche the format of the launch events went something like this:
Arrive at some top-class hotel in an exotic location.
That evening be entertained with great food and a free bar till late in the evening.
Next morning – drive the new model Porsche and become educated about the product.
The same evening there would be more free booze, a gala supper and top-quality entertainment, and the bar would remain open until the last man left.
Next day go home – in a daze!
This format worked extremely well for the manufacturer for years and was enjoyed by the dealers, but as you may have worked out it was also flawed!
Booze and driving cars don’t mix.
After a few ” incidents ” Porsche introduced the “Porsche Police” at these events.
These ” policemen ” were members of their own team who would breathalyze everyone on the morning of the driving activities.
This generally caused considerable panic amongst the great and the good, with many fuzzy brained individuals dodging into the loos or trying to slip past the queuing zone.
Many senior managers, directors and business owners would be banned from driving the new cars that day – much to the annoyance of the host and embarrassment of the culprit!
However, it did give us other saint like individuals the opportunity to take the piss out of them that evening and on the journey home.
In my 26 odd years with Porsche that basic format for events didn’t change – just the addition of the ” Porsche Police”.
I often wondered why on the first night they didn’t close the bar early or have new product distractions laid on for the dealers. But nothing was changed.
And why should it?
I remember when Dr. Porsche and Mr Weideking and the rest of the Porsche board visited us in Hatfield in 2004, Weideking told me that Porsche had just recorded 10 consecutive record profitable years.
Indeed, he said, if you had invested 10,000 U.S. Dollars in Porsche stock when he took over at the helm of the company, that same stock would now be worth $500,000 U.S. Dollars.
So I guess you can understand why the marketing team left things as they were.