Launching an entirely new automotive brand is probably one of the most daunting tasks in marketing. You have to establish a dealer network, a parts supply chain and, when all that’s in place, you have to convince people who are making perhaps their largest-ever purchase commitment to buy a car that they’ve never heard of. Some brands have navigated this very well, while others quickly became part of the automotive fossil record. Here are some of our favorite successes and failures.
MINI: Mini was almost a complete unknown in the U.S. at the time of its 2002 launch, having not sold cars in the United States since 1967, the last year the original Mini Cooper S was available. Agency Crispin Porter & Bogusky crafted a brilliant multi-pronged campaign (including some remarkable guerilla marketing) around the “Let’s Motor” tagline that was the best stuff seen in the automotive space since Doyle Dane Bernbach’s seminal “Think Small” work for Volkswagen. It performed brilliantly. MINI remains a much-admired and oft-imitated brand. While the jury is still out on Fiat’s launch, MINI’s all-encompassing and all-conquering creativity made them a tough act to follow.
Hyundai: Hyundai was far from the instant success that marked MINI’s launch. The first cars they sold in the U.S. were boxy, slow and smelled funny, and about 98 percent of Americans mispronounced their name. South Korea was also a country with zero car-making credibility in the U.S. Advertising keyed in on the fact that they were cheap ($5,499 in 1986 with clever headlines like “Debt End”), but a then-astounding 36-month, 36,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty sealed the deal for many Americans who rolled the dice on a new Hyundai. The cars got progressively better and Hyundai thrived to the point where many established Japanese brands are now scared to death of them.
Daewoo: If Hyundai took very few missteps on their road to success, another South Korean brand, Daewoo, did nothing but snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Ham-fisted, not remotely credible ad campaigns compared new Daewoos to premium German brands. And then there were the model names: Lanos, Nubira and Leganza. Enough said. Daewoo lasted a lunchtime in the U.S.
Daihatsu: Prior to Suzuki, Daihatsu was the only modern Japanese automotive brand to fail in the U.S. While MINI managed to survive and thrive on a limited model lineup for quite some time, it had an enormous cool factor to ride on. Not so for Daihatsu, with the mini-SUV Rocky and the subcompact Charade, an uninspired car with a name synonymous to many Americans with either the most annoyingly dreaded party game on the planet or a joke or sham. Daihatsu was doomed to a short four-year (1988-92) life in the U.S.