Leaving on a high note
Well, the sales figures for 2016 are out, and ended just fewer than 3,000 short of the magical 150,000 figure I (sort of) prophesied in our December issue. It was an interesting year, and one which saw Toyota retain the major share of the overall market, passenger and commercial, with 18 percent, followed by Ford on 11 percent, Holden on 10 percent, Mazda on eight percent, and Mitsubishi on six percent. As far as individual models were concerned, the Ford Ranger was top dog, and in overall market terms, SUVS now outsell cars and station wagons, with 36 percent of the market compared to 35 percent for other passenger vehicles, and 29 percent for commercials. In the passenger vehicle arena, Toyota was tops on 17 percent, followed by Holden (10 percent), Mazda (nine percent), Ford (seven percent) and Hyundai (seven percent) One much-maligned area for some importers is the vehicles sold to rental fleets, which they say skew the figures. However, my take on this is that these vehicles are real sales, not “paper entries”, and they eventually find their way back into the marketplace via the used market, where Toyota in particular makes good use of them by refurbishing to “nearly new” condition in its superb Signature Class factory in Thames, Waikato.
One interesting take for me on all this is the varying degrees of marketing effort, and particularly media relations, put in by the various companies, and as a motoring journalist it’s a sad tale to tell. I have been writing about motoring for more than 50 years, and during that period I have road tested upwards of 2,500 vehicles, all over the world. The fact that I am about to stop vehicle testing to concentrate my efforts, in a sort of semi-retirement, on our Motorequipmentnews magazine, which is aimed at the automotive trade, including workshops and other repairers, frees me from the need to be diplomatic. It’s fair to say that, with notable exceptions, the standard of motoring media relations in New Zealand is often poor, and in some cases abysmal. It’s often hard to get information, some of the websites are, frankly, a minefield of nothingness, and yet those who seem to try the least are often the first to complain when mistakes inevitably occur. One area in particular that worries me is the laissez faire attitude of some importers to road tests. In a media world that is constantly changing, these remain the most cost-effective means of communicating the values of a motor vehicle to the buying public, yet money is thrown away on “creative” TV advertising and the like which does nothing to show the areas sellers want to know about. In particular they fail to address the key areas of advertising highlighted by David Ogilvy, considered the “Father of Advertising”, who in 1955 coined the phrase: “The customer is not a moron, she’s your wife”, based on Ogilvy’s principles that the function of advertising is to sell, and that successful advertising for any product is based on information about its consumer. He disliked advertisements that had loud patronising voices, and believed a customer should be treated as intelligent.
That means, in a world where little information about the product is actually imparted by advertising, motoring journalists remain the vital link between the vehicle and the buyer in providing, first, information, and second, qualified opinion. Yet journalists providing this vital function (generally for free, since advertising spend is being redirected away from much of the Media), are still often treated as freeloaders being given the use of a new vehicle. People ask me if I’m sad to be giving up new car testing, but the reality is that I’m a petrol head at heart, and although I believe electric vehicles will someday dominate the landscape, there’s still a long way to go – and they don’t make sense unless they cost the same as equivalent petrol cars, electricity is developed from renewable sources, recharge points are plentiful, and recharging is cheaper than buying petrol. On autonomous cars: although massive advances have been made, it will be a long time before a computer can reliably replicate all the myriad decisions a human makes while driving a car, and the vehicle can be allowed to have complete control. Global warming? While I believe in climate change, there are too many people, often quite unsavoury characters, jumping on the bandwagon for me to get to grips with it. Fact is, no-one can predict the future, and computer modelling is only as good as the data that’s being fed in. If you look at dire predictions made 10 to 15 years ago, well, none of them have happened, leading me to believe we need a lot more information before we can work out what MIGHT happen. And that’s what makes the future look a lot brighter than the doom and gloom merchants would have us believe. Hope you have a great 2017!