During a quick trip to Paris last week to participate in the annual Automotive News Europe Congress, I was reminded of an interesting fact during my ride in from the airport.
The majority of vehicles on the streets of Paris, and I'm sure it's true throughout Europe, are cars that you never see in North America or Asia.
We quickly forget that tastes are different around the globe and that the world's manufacturers have varying degrees of success in catering to those different tastes.
I saw Renaults, Peugeots, Fiats, Opels, German Fords and even the occasional Rover. Sure, I saw Mercedes cars, but a lot were A class and Smart models. There were some familiar cars from Mercedes and the Volkswagen group, but most vehicles were strange looking to a guy from Detroit.
Tastes are different. It is becoming increasingly difficult to produce a mass-market vehicle for the world.
During dinner at the Congress, VW's Bernd Pischetsrieder made a good point. The rich are very mobile, he said. They travel and know what everyone wears and where they stay and what they drive.
As a result, the upper class is interested in the same watches and clothes and cars.
That doesn't apply for the mass market. Cars for the mass market must be sold country by country, and that may explain why so few cars are sold globally.
The VW Beetle was the most famous recent vehicle that had global appeal and, interestingly, every market thought of the car as its own.
It's tough enough in the United States these days. If you go from Detroit to Los Angeles, you might think that you've gone to another country. The share of market in California is vastly different from Michigan.
We will continue to see a broad use of common platforms and architectures around the world. If the manufacturers are smart, we won't even notice.
In the mass markets of the world, tastes are quite different, and the risks in trying to produce one version for the world are so high that it's just about impossible.
It's much smarter to create vehicles for individual markets than to try to save some money with a bland vehicle that appeals to no one.
Local markets deserve local cars.
Car companies have learned that expensive lesson. They won't make the same mistake again.