Audi of America boss Johan de Nysschen defects to Nissan’s Infiniti

June 5, 2012

Sometimes it’s easy to forget there are other things going on in the world of autos than Joel Ewanick shaking up General Motors’ marketing plan.

Such as Audi veteran Johan de Nysschen quitting the marque he has championed for 19 years and heading for rival luxury brand Infiniti.

De Nysschen’s decision to quit Audi of America, which he has steered with great success for 7 years, created considerable industry speculation last week. Putsched or moving on – and why? It now turns out he will be relocating to Hong Kong where, as a senior vice-president of Nissan – which owns Infiniti, he will spearhead an attempted global revival of the trailing luxury car brand.

De Nysschen’s departure from Audi was a surprise, not least because the North American unit has been performing so well recently. Annual sales exceeded 100,000 units for the first time two years ago; this year, Audi’s share of the US luxury car market has risen from 5.3% to 10%. In May alone, Audi’s US sales climbed 15% to 52,494 cars.

But perhaps that’s the point: de Nysschen likes a challenge. And with Infiniti he’s certainly getting one.

In the US, Infiniti is the brand that most closely rivals Audi in sales performance. During 2010, Infiniti narrowly outsold Audi – 103,411 vehicles compared with 101,629. But there the resemblance ends. Last year, Infiniti trailed Audi at 98,461 to 117,561. The immediate reason was production problems stemming from the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. The more strategic issue is an ageing and increasingly unimpressive product line.

Globally Infiniti sales, at about 200,000, are a fraction of VW-owned Audi’s 1.3 million. Infiniti has been striving to catch up, with a technology deal involving Mercedes-Benz and the promise of an extended vehicle line-up of 10, in place of the existing 8.

Clearly Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn has been making all sorts of promises to de Nysschen about imminently improved product performance. Without that, it seems unlikely that Infiniti will be able to charge anything like the price of a BMW, Mercedes or Audi any time soon.

The establishment of a new global Infiniti headquarters in Hong Kong – doors opened last month – is an interesting declaration of intent in itself.

Infiniti was once exclusive to the USA, but is now being marketed in 46 countries. Significantly, China is Infiniti’s second largest market after the USA.


Are these two electric car ads for Renault and Nissan by any chance related?

May 30, 2011

The chances are you won’t have seen Renault’s expensive new global campaign, promoting the virtues of its ZE electric model. That’s because it won’t be airing in Britain until September.

Which is a pity, because it’s a nicely crafted piece of advertising that fetes the coming of the electric revolution in an unusually humorous, ironic way. Irony being a hallmark of neither the automobile industry nor the French ad industry.

It’s produced by Paris-based Publicis Conseil and driven, as it were, by the agency’s chief creative officer Olivier Altmann. And here, for the uninitiated, it is:

Nifty, isn’t  it? Now, here’s another campaign, produced by TBWA for the Nissan LEAF. It has just begun airing in the USA. I wonder if you can spot the differences:

Spookily similar aren’t they? In fact, so similar you would draw the obvious conclusion that these rival car giants were collaborating in a global generic push for their electric car technology.

Nor, at first sight, is that such a silly conclusion. After all, Nissan and Renault are related. Renault, run by Brazilian whizz kid Carlos Ghosn, is the dominant partner in an alliance, with a 44.3 % stake in Nissan; while Nissan has a strategic cross-holding of 15% (with no voting rights) in Renault.

However, the collaboration is firmly anchored in technological development, production improvements and a bit of badge engineering. It does not extend to sales and marketing – which are still regarded as totally separate operations and highly competitive ones at that.

Yet that’s precisely what Publicis Conseil and TBWA appear to be doing with the electric platform – collaborating. The production values of the two ads may be slightly different, and there are significant variations in the development of the story board, but the creative concept appears to be identical.

Not so, I’m told. There is fury in both agencies, which have taken to accusing each other of plagiarism. At very least there must have been a leak. Legals have been threatened … though I doubt the threat will come to anything. So, come on boys, tell us: who had the idea first?

UPDATE: The answer to my last question may be, “Neither”. A chum in Italy, Tommaso Ridolfi, tells me there is a third ingredient in this thickening plot: Mitsubishi Motors. Mitsubishi launched its i MiEV(Mitsubishi innovative Electric Vehicle) on the European retail market at the end of last year. Check out this ad, ‘Let’s Go Electric’, for similarities to the above. It bears an uncanny resemblance, particularly to the Nissan spot. The only thing is, it appears to have preceded them, airing in March. Mitsubishi is certainly not an ally of Renault or Nissan. For more commentary, see Joelapompe’s site.

Buckle your safety belts: GM has put Joel Ewanick in the global driving seat

December 21, 2010

You’ll have to forgive me. Unlike former Porsche marketer Joel Ewanick, I don’t live in the fast-lane – meaning, I’ve just caught up with the news that he has been appointed to the new position of global chief marketing officer, General Motors.

Even by his standards, that was quick work. He only joined the organisation eight months ago as US vice president marketing, after a brief and apparently stormy sojourn at Nissan. But what an eight months that’s been. The relentless cutting-edge of the whirling dervish has left no department intact, no slogan unchallenged, no strategy unexamined, no agency relationship unmarked. Most notoriously, it will be recalled, he summarily despatched Publicis Worldwide only weeks after it had won the $700m Chevrolet account, and replaced it with (off-roster but on-message, so far as Ewanick is concerned) Goodby Silverstein & Partners. Then, judging perhaps that he had gratuitously made an enemy of one of the most powerful admen in the world, he placated Maurice Lévy by firing BBH from $270m Cadillac and giving the business to Fallon instead. I’m sure there were other reasons for this move: but it cannot be entirely coincidental that Fallon is wholly owned by Publicis Groupe, of which Lévy is the ceo, whereas BBH is only 49% owned by the same company. More money, then, into the main exchequer.

Any way, back to Ewanick. There are at least two, not entirely contradictory, ways of looking at his brand of marketing management; the success of his current appointment will depend on which is uppermost.

The first we have already seen: the change agent on steroids who will stop at nothing to become the world’s most famous car-marketer, in a vainglorious attempt to salvage the apparently unsalvageable: GM’s reputation.

The second is a man with an indisputable reputation for turning around troubled car marques. He did it at Porsche Cars North America during the nineties (no fly-by-nighter there – he stayed nearly nine years as general manager marketing); and he did it again during his 3-year stint as head of marketing at Hyundai North America. Hyundai is now – arguably – America’s most successful car brand.

In this new role we’re going to discover whether success has gone to Ewanick’s head or not. According to the man who appointed him, GM CEO Dan Akerson (himself a new kid on the managerial block), he “will ensure consistent global messaging fro all brands including Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, GMC, Holden, Opel and Vauxhall. Ewanick will provide oversight for global brand enhancements in the markets in which they are sold and work in association with the regional presidents in countries where GM has partnerships and joint ventures.”

The key regional bosses we are talking about here are the ones with dominion in Britain (Vauxhall), Australia (Holden) and Germany (Opel) – Ewanick already controls the rest. And the key issue is how much these brands desire, or even require, “consistent global messaging” – still less an American-centric version of it. Let’s not forget that these were the successful bits, devolved from GM’s incompetent Detroit management – the bits that didn’t have to go into Chapter 11 a while back. I wonder whether Ewanick has the forbearance to acknowledge that. Somehow, I can’t imagine tact is his number one quality.

Whatever happens, it’s going to be an interesting ride for GM’s European roster agencies. DLKW Lowe, McCann Erickson, Scholz & Friends and Amsterdam Worldwide, fasten your seat belts.

To young people, the car has essentially become a mobile

August 24, 2009

imagesIt’s ugly and I wouldn’t buy it. But I’m not the target market. And you have to hand it to Nissan, they have come up with an intriguing social insight.

I’m talking about the US launch of the chunky little Cube, which bears an uncanny similarity to an iPhone on wheels. The similarity is quite deliberate, according to Nissan North America Christian Meunier: “We envision owners using their Cubes as one of their essential mobile devices, connecting with friends, sharing music and sharing fun,” he says.

Actually, the Cube – very much a youth car – long predates the iPhone, having first launched in 1998. Credit for this particular positioning must go to Nissan’s ad agency TBWAChiatDay which – you guessed it if you didn’t know already – also handles iPod and iPhone marketing for Apple.

I don’t think the parallel works at all levels.  iPhones, even in the USA, are far too expensive to be the exclusive preserve of youth. Whereas this $14,000 car is unlikely to appeal to anyone more mature. But as a planning insight the new Cube is not without interest.

550 Spyder to die for

550 Spyder: To die for

If you think about it, the slim, elegant smart phone of today’s generation is the equivalent of life in the fast lane in the Fifties. James Dean liked fast cars so much he managed to kill himself in one. Today, according to research conducted by CNW Marketing, young people – when asked what would most impress their friends – said an iPhone (80%). A new car came a distant second (20%).

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