Has brand management come and gone in the auto industry?
Certainly today's hot trend - sales and marketing on the Internet - is far more about low price than about strong brands.
Recent studies suggest that neither consumers' perceptions of brands nor their loyalty to a make or model has risen since General Motors board member John Smale turned 'brand management' into the mantra at GM and other companies in the mid-1990s.
The theory went that people would pay a little premium for a strong brand, just as shoppers do in the supermarket. But look what has happened to car prices. Basic prices have been almost flat for three years, and big rebates and subvented financing are the rule, not the exception.
All that talk of brands, all that structure of brand managers - was it just so much air?
Well, strong brands still exist and prosper. Look at Mercedes-Benz and BMW. Honda gets more for an Accord or Civic, and Toyota gets more for a Camry, than most of the competitors.
Meanwhile, few divisions have been more brand-obsessed than Oldsmobile, which is finally showing signs of revival. But Oldsmobile's revival began when it got a couple of appealing cars in the Intrigue and Alero, not when it got brand managers.
The message here? It's the product. And the product doesn't even have to be consistent with the brand image. The Honda Odyssey is not the kind of light, nimble vehicle for which Honda is known. But people line up to buy them.
Between the necessity of great hardware on one end and the flattening of prices for the connected Internet consumer on the other, there may be only marginal benefits possible for brand management.