Thursday, 10 April 2008

Micro-Level Trends – Design, Production & Marketing – Volvo Assists the Mass-Customisation Ideology

The technology was first applied to flat-side vans and trucks for basic business name and pictorials, then skilfully developed for full vehicle body applications, initially taxis, then commercial delivery fleets. And latterly we’ve seen VMs and dealers utilise the technology to personalise re-born Beetles, Minis and now 500s; providing a possible hint of what was to come.

This week the phenomena matured to its natural, potentially very powerful, end-game with the introduction of – to our knowledge – the first manufacturer created full & part body graphics range for new private car sales. Volvo and the C30

The evolution of applied graphic films has come on a long way, especially over the last 5 years. The CAD technology that designed the first ‘2nd skin envelope’ for cabs has massively expanded its library of vehicle surfaces, allowing the tailoring of the technology to any car.

At first glance it seems like a natural evolutionary step, as indeed is, but look closer at it has massive ramifications for the industry. For car-buyers the traditional colour palettes mutate into full-blown design suites. For auto-makers, the high-cost, complex and time-demanding paint-shop can be simplified, reducing the spectrum of colours needed and the quality of paint finish – the 2nd skin film used to visually dress the desired finish.

The basic virtues of the technology application have been recognised by investment-auto-motives for many years, its ultimate raison d’etre suited to the mass-customisation and differentiation of ideally a singular basic generic model that can be dressed (and modified in function and feature) to suit the personalisation requirement of the buyer. It would be the automotive equivalent of dressing a standard mobile phone or I-POD with style/fashion jackets.

From a commercial perspective though – for film manufacturer and auto-maker - it doesn’t make business sense to wait to integrate the technology into an as yet embryonic business model. But don’t be misled by the fact that Volvo is the brand to release the service into the (at first Swedish) market. Parent Ford is undoubtedly behind the initiative to both expand the pricing margin via this option for Volvo and observe & develop the process aswell as see how the film fares in relatively harsh Swedish climate conditions. Volvo is thus acting as an improved revenue earning test-bed for the application. The endeavour makes total sense from a Group commercial perspective, but exactly how it will be viewed and adopted by C30 buyers is a pertinent question, the answer for which we shall have to wait.

Although the launch of this full-body graphics service has been relatively low-key, the impact upon operational build/finishing systems behind factory gates, and the brand marketing process on the web and dealer-floor could be potentially immense, if the potential of the accordant business model was developed fully – as previously intimated.

Without being overtly theatrical “this is one small step for Volvo….one giant leap for Auto-Man(ufacture) kind”. But then ultimately, is it not about a single person’s own theatrical effort to stake their claim in what many may think a barren automotive landscape? The beauty is, the innovation has been anything but rocket science to get there.