"Successful people want to drive successful cars from successful firms." That statement, attributed to Porsche CEO Wendelin Wiedeking, is as straightforward as it is valid.
Anyone wishing to check it out need only talk to a Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar or Opel dealer about how the public perceives their brands. An outpouring of accumulated frustration will ensue.
For a long time there has been nothing to read about VW other than that it is a corrupt, inefficient, chronically low-margin company. Surely this is a reason that the company's communications chief has announced his resignation.
Opel has gone through a miserable, unending stretch of bad news that now seems to be behind it. And Mercedes-Benz has generated reports about job cuts, quality problems and declines in profitability at various intervals.
Ford's brand torture
Now Ford Motor Co. is surpassing all these automakers in brand torture. The U.S. automaker has placed its Jaguar and Aston Martin luxury brands in the public eye in a negative way with its half-baked thoughts about selling the marques.
In some cases, it may be advisable to publicly point out problems in one's own company and to praise its improvements.
But this can't be allowed to become a permanent condition, since it has a devastating impact on a brand's image and reputation.
Anyone spending a lot of money on a new car would like to identify in a positive way with the brand and the manufacturer.
That is exceedingly difficult if management is carrying out a relentless power struggle in public, as was the case at VW, or the new leadership presents its own brand as an economic basket case, as happened at Mercedes-Benz.
And this is a reason for Toyota's success. You only read and hear good things about it.
After its Rover disaster, BMW is back in the success lane, something that can be read as easily in the positive reporting as in the sales figures.
Porsche drivers are basking in the success of the sports car maker and the almost unabashed self-confidence of its chief executive.
The fact that VW sales figures have held up quite well, despite the endless series of bad news, is primarily due to its young model lineup and an unusually high level of incentives.
Nonetheless, the bad news has left its traces on its balance sheet, since sales incentives are expensive and eat away at profits.
With its fresh Golf and Passat models, VW's profits should be at record levels. Instead, the brand is constantly brushing against its break-even point. That's not what a winner looks like.
Guido Reinking is editor of Automobilwoche. You may e-mail him at [email protected]