Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Auto Industry Practice – EM Business and Product Strategy – Cross Cultural Learning (Part 2)

Part 1 of this web-log conveyed the macro notion that the cultural paradox of 'glocalisation' continues to both enthuse and confuse corporations, as cultural identities become ever more layered and so complex whilst the very nature of mass and niche consumerism re-orchestrates new opportunities for cross-cultural paradigms.

This Part 2 undertakes a micro orientated review of the sociological awareness – both weak and strong – of various auto-sector players' product strategies in the past; so as to remind of lessons once learned, but oft forgotten.

This to span:

- Early era efforts of auto-globalisation
- Case studies of ill-contrived 'glocal' business plans
- The rigour of Japan's “deep knowledge” approach
- Examples of well-contrived 'glocal' new product development

Yesteryear Automotive Globalisation -

Since the earliest days manufacturers sought to introduce their largely 'home-grown' products into new foreign markets, seeking new income streams, in-market dominance and corporate expansionist power. Typically seeking to offer a vehicle 'as is' if suitable, or through mechanical and features adaption to satisfy the climatic and road/track demands of specific geographies.

Given the generally poor worldwide road conditions of the early 20th century, even in the industrialised West, the first decades of international mobility relied upon a necessary robustness built into vehicles, hence a Model T Ford that could operate both across the USA's Death Valley and the Australian Outback, and at the other end of the spectrum a Rolls-Royce 'Silver Ghost' could equally traverse countryside tracks within Britain and India.

However, by the mid 1920s the internal competitiveness of western markets, feature offerings and customer demands, versus the still largely basic transportation needs of more rudimentary foreign markets, meant that regionally defined 'sub-species' of specific models began to appear in order to balance the offering vs demand equation.

As seen with consolidation of European marques into the larger conglomerates, as part of their own global expansion drive Detroit's “Big 3” acquired foreign interests in the “going concerns” of automotive manufacturers and/or associated coach-builders, either partially, though typically completely. So as to gain early entry in what would become yesteryear's often colonially related new growth markets.

As vehicle sales grew in such semi-foreign markets through the 1930s and 1960s in line with underlying GDP growth, so greater attention was paid to the engineering of what evolved as perceptionally regionally specific vehicles. Though the economies of scale that provided profitability demanded that core homeland platforms be used, much was undertaken to maintain local and regional identities and thus maximise overall global sales.

1930s Australia saw the rise of the 'Coupe Utility' from Ford and GM Holden, models effectively transplanted from the USA where they were less favoured but well aligned to antipodean needs, as well as in 1948 the notionally “All Australian” Holden 48-215, actually born in Detroit but assembled in six Australian plants and acting as an industrial attraction hub for new sets of suppliers; all part of Australia's own national agenda toward industrial modernisation of the time.

Likewise, Brazilian examples include in the 1970s the re-deployment of a Renault 12 based model itself inherited by Ford as part of its own regional expansion and named the Ford Corcel. With in 1980 Volkswagen's 'hybridised' creation that was the series one Gol, a more modern Golf related body structure and style but with the cheap and reliable air-cooled engine of previous VW cars; also targeted at South Africa.

These were indeed successful case studies which demonstrated how yesteryear's fringe markets required simple, low cost products derived from simple, low cost business models, in what were recognised as comparatively undemanding markets seeking most vehicle types.

Poorly Contrived Sector Strategies -
However, the opposite is also true, wherein what were subsequently seen as poor product development strategies failed to capture the mass interest of a developing marketplace.

As vehicle demand shifts from the initial 'base-line' volume generated by governmental and industrial users who purchase with obvious 'cost-benefit' rationale, and on toward the greater volumes of private consumers and private-like business users, so the ability to “read” the marketplace becomes ever more complex. And so plotting and formulating the business case evolution of specific models becomes more challenging.

The challenges of entering such markets are typically hefty enough, and historically have required deep corporate pockets to maintain not just presence but to set set the standard. Per unit profitability is typically degraded by issues such as import tariff costs on whole cars, CKD packs and component parts, and even if a VM commits to the creation a fully fledged manufacturing facility, and thereby acting as a hub attracts a mixed multi-national and indigenous supply base, per unit costs remain comparatively high given the supplier companies' desire to see a return on their investments.

Thus such a move into developing markets has historically requires major long-term funding capabilities; as seen by the likes of Volkswagen and FIAT in South America during the 1960s and 1970s, and GM and Volkswagen in China through the 1990s.

Such in-market demand dynamics and the initial cash-burn means that getting it right is paramount for both well established global manufacturers and the newer crop of EM based firms seeking greater regional and international profile.

The following are simplified case studies which illustrate how wrongly directed over-ambition in the chase for foreign sales have failed the business ambition of 'glocalism'.

The Leyland P76 :

Prior to the 1990s commodities boom, beyond meat, wool and semi-precious stone exports, Australia was largely a self-contained economy, boosted by its British-American political ties as a distinctly strategic out-post sat within the Asia-Pacific; but which would ideally be self-supporting.

Given Britain's sovereignty, unsurprisingly British vehicles were prevalent initially, from the importation of Edwardian Lanchesters to 1920s Austins, to 1950s and 60s Land Rovers, which came to be locally assembled and latterly wholly manufactured, alongside original Mini and the Australia re-engineered large Kimberley.

Under British oversight a US-Australian trade agreement was established which assisted the sales of larger V8 and IL6 engined Ford, Holden and (Chrysler) Valiant cars and variants, vehicles which did not directly compete with the BMC Australia's typically smaller engined products, the volume sales excluding marginal Kimberley. But latter 'open-door' trade policies with Japan and Europe allowed for the importation of smaller IL4 engined vehicles which proved to be whilst technically unsophisticated both reliable and cheap; so in effect matching, sometimes bettering and under-cutting UK derived vehicles. By the late 1960s this caused yet another blow to the British motor industry.

Under the 1960s consolidation the UK industry, BLMC, (later BL), absorbed the various loss-making UK firms of Austin, Morris, MG, Triumph and Jaguar-Daimler to try and find inter-firm synergies, rationalise new product development, and cherry-pick new market possibilities.

One of these was to focus upon the still relatively buoyant Australian market.

Recognising that BLMC could not build a business model to fight the Japanese and Europeans based upon the price of smaller cars, it instead chose to leverage its technical advantage, directing that apparent competence directly at the higher price-point and higher-margin large car class and so versus Detroit's 'Big 3'. Seeking to build upon the small market share Kimberley had captured with an avante garde proposition.

BLMC management convinced board executives that Australia's own entrepreneurs and senior managers had themselves morphed into highly aspirant, very worldly, individuals, keen to buy a technically advanced large car which spoke of Australian confidence. This may have been the marketing department's 'blurb', but the fact was that the conglomerate metaphorically had “its back to the wall”. And so the idea of a dedicated upmarket Australian vehicle was born, its USP being more futuristic styling and engineering and not the outcome of simply a cosmetically altered evolutionary model variant.

The outcome was the “wholly Australian” P76 large sedan and its sibling the Force 7 coupe; itself establishing new engineering directions amongst the national supply chain firms to hopefully raise the bar for Australia itself. 

Unfortunately, the fact was that upon its arrival the market was effectively saturated with what were viewed as satisfactory vehicles which whilst hardly advanced actually sold on their relative simplicity, with vital reliability both in towns and deep into the countryside. Australian entrepreneurs and senior managers sided with staid GM Holden, Ford and Chrysler-Valiant cars which although less differentiated at the premium-end than the P76/Force 7, were robust, easily maintained and repaired. Moreover, during the interim, Detroit had improved its various brand standings with indegenous V8 racing at circuits such as Bathurst etc.

Detroit's Big 3 had global profits, cash at hand and scale economies by which to drive down costs and wage price wars as necessary, they had wide model-line differentiation for its body and trim variants and country-wide dealership and garage networks. In contrast, BLMC/BL during this period saw its combined multi-marque profits dwindle, its cash depleted and economies of scale unrealised as certain 'head to head' in-house models were discontinued in favour of the better positioned brand.

Surrounded by more adept American, European and Japanese foes through the tide of globalisation, BL's hope was that the P76 / Force 7 would encourage a corporate renaissance. Instead an unrealistic BL had effectively created a car which nobody wanted.

[NB the lesson here is that whilst even the most fortunate of developing markets' consumers do indeed aspire to improved products and services, ultimately purchase rationality will typically underpin the decision process of something as costly, functionally important and service orientated as the car].

Africar -

As a raft of African nations gained independence from previous colonial governance in the 1960s and 1970s, it was envisaged by some that the new republics would continue to seek out their own fortunes, with greater disconnection from the western industrial interests. Interests which though having largely created large scale industry and commerce in these countries, were also seen to be exploiters of national mineral, commodities and human resource wealth.

To assist such ambitions of African Independence leaders, a new crop of idealistic western entrepreneurs emerged, seeking new methods by which such states could create for themselves and kick-start their own circulatory economies.

Once such in the field of light commercial and personal transport was “the car for Africa”; toted as 'AFRICAR'. Its inception came in the early 1980s, founder Anthony Howarth long associated with Africa, believed he recognised the need to develop an affordable, sturdy, capable and cheap to operate vehicle that would do for Africa what the Model T had done 70 years earlier for the USA and elsewhere.

Both N.Africa and Sub-Sahara countries had long relied upon the Peugeot 403/404, 4x4s such as Land Rovers and LandCruisers, aswell as later the full-size US pick-ups. But these were effectively high cost vehicles given their rarity and usage demands through the 1950s/60s/70s.

Howarth believed that he could create a market targeted spiritual successor to the likes of the legendary Citroen Mahari (light 4x4) and lesser known 'FAF', which were a breed of light vehicles which themselves had used 2CV chassis, running gear and systems. These parts had long been financially amortised as per tooling etc and by the late 1970s were cheap off-the-shelf items.

These primary parts together with a general supporting structural body made from plywood sheet and polyurethane mouldings would supported the idea of a low-cost vehicle. The concept vehicle was constructed in California in 1976 – just as FAF was mid-point its lifespan – and proved functional as a daily runabout over the 2 years, before the project proper was under-way.

[NB At this point investment-auto-motives it seems plausible that there were very probably West Coast interests (beyond Howarth) who sought a “technology disruption” of the conventional auto-sector to capture any such value-added. (See previous recent weblogs)].

Three prototypes were built: two standard wheelbase 4-wheelers in car and pick-up guises and a more novel 6-wheeler pick-up with extended wheelbase and glazed van cargo area. These were tested via a long distance trek from the Arctic Circle to Nairobi, Kenya spanning long distance and cold to hot climates, given much public attention with press and TV coverage, the logo of Britain's then new Channel 4 TV station prominent within the 'AFRICAR 1984' door graphic

After the apparent successful test regime, plus Howarth's apparent patriotism that (after the BL story) Britain ought to invest within its home-grown motor industry (to off-set the economic might of London's financial services sector) [a familiar call today], led to a new AFRICAR production facility established in Lancaster, NW England.

[NB Though this in itself goes against the grain of local African production, even if for ongoing technical feasibility or promotional reasons. on such a simple vehicle-build project; possibly put in place to attract broader UK sourced funding streams]

Apparently detailed reports highlighted the feasibility of the vehicle in both developing and developed markets so broadening its scope.

However, the idealism was not to last.

Whilst the concept on paper appeared sound, and various smaller Asian state 'agreements in principle' had been affirmed for local manufacture, as well as oddly Australia, (possibly as a base for the pan Asian goal), financing and cashflow problems became problematic.

As for Australia, the vehicle was the polar opposite of the large car, 4x4 and SUV preferences of the great majority buyers and users, from GM and Ford Utes to Toyota 75 series 'Troop Carriers' of the period, so quite where the obvious target customers were was a complete mystery. As seen with P76 above, they would stick with what they trusted and suited.

Whilst the Burma (now Myanmar), Butan and Nepal (aswell as larger Bangladesh) had agreed in principle to local manufacture, the fact is that the car had been designed for generally flatter landscapes; three of these four places with much hilly geography which would have been too strenuous for the relatively under-powered AFRICAR, negating proper use and causing reliability problems, even if the original long distance prototype test argues otherwise.

Crucially, a new breed of African leaders sought to be seen by the wider-world, and especially the West, as modern and contemporary nations which could stand proud amongst others. Thus the idea that Africa be broadly purveyed as a specialist economic case requiring specialist solutions was an anathema to people's seeking modern ways and similar transportation methods, whether public, and indeed especially personal.

This political atmosphere, plus the most importantly, the influx of hardy, easily maintained and repairable older Japanese model imports from Europe, Japan and elsewhere – vans to pick-ups to cars, often very over-laden but able to operate given their “over-engineering” for durability – quickly obliterated the apparent need for an AFRICAR ideology.

In this case, globalisation's own demand and supply dynamics, though operating at the lower-end of the obviously visible spectrum (at least for western eyes) irrefutably altered the African market landscape for Howarth. This dynamic should not have gone unnoticed or possibly deliberately ignored.

Moreover, the manner by which the project proceeded was highly questionable.

Including, what appears an unstated reverse engineering of a given (FAF) concept, then seeming progressed from a supposed clean sheet, when actually simply re-running the proven Citroen rationale from 50 years earlier. Plus the fact that it appears Howarth himself risked little finance and no collateral. Instead utilising a girlfriend's home and income as required collateral on a bank loan. itself spent on over-costly professional services at the banks insistance.

Overall, the project's approach and plan, and its funding methods and cost absorption rates (cash-burn) will have appeared concerning to any independent analyst of the time. The AFRICAR project ultimately posed more questions than it answered.

Proton's “Islamic Car” -

Between the British and Japanese powers during WW2, Malaysia has effectively sought to both balance seek advantage from both western and eastern interests ever since. Previously, as a central Asian domain, the country was also much entwined with Chinese trade and commercial influence plus Sino-population influx; this situation re-risen with the more recent rise of China.

Throughout the latter third of the 20th century Malaysia was on the path to modernisation, putting in place infrastructure and industrial development like the basic processing industries from which higher value goods could be created to satisfy governmental, commercial and private needs; including trucks, motorcycles and cars; as internal fortunes and GDP grew

Seen as a high-point during this period was the inauguration of the “National Car Project”, which under the oversight of the government strategic investment and development arm named Khazanah Nasional, came into being in 1983, and named 'Proton'.

Proton Holdings Berhad (referred to as Proton or Proton Cars) was formed from the joint venture partnership between itself and Japan's Mitsubishi Motors, the latter supplying the tooling, jigs etc to allow for the manufacture of its vehicles.

The first 'National Car' was the compact sized Proton Saga (based upon the Mitsubishi Lancer/Colt). Interestingly, unlike similar agreements which only allow for the utilisation of older vehicle designs, Mitsubishi provided Proton with nigh-on new technology given that the car had only been available for 2 years in Japan when it was released under the Malaysian badge in 1985.

[NB an interesting aspect of this vehicle package was the manner in which from the internal rear passenger seating viewpoint, the middle of the car (the 'B posts') appeared slightly wider than normal, so providing for an open environment for the small cabin].

This landmark car was produced for 23 years as first Saga and updated Saga Iswara, and became a Malaysian icon in its own right. From the beginning provided a substantial income stream from which Proton sought bigger and better ambitions for export growth.

Those monies allowed Proton to develop an expanded range of vehicles, at first similarly based upon direct Mitsubishi technology and tooling transfer, but became more indigenous in design, vehicle engineering and engineering production as Proton grew its own capabilities in-house; yet maintaining the Mitsubishi JV (and other JV agreements) for specific vehicle projects. This lead to a succession of vehicles including in 1995 Satria, Putra, 1996 Tiara (using Citroen's AX model), 2000 Waja, 2007 Persona, 2008 New Saga, 2009 Exora, 2010 Inspira (once again deploying a later generation Mitsubishi Lancer), 2012 Prevé, 2013 Suprima S and new Perdana (using rebadged Honda Accord (for government services only).

However, confidentially, successive Proton executives would no doubt admit that the process has been a constant battle given the micro and macro headwinds faced from the early 1990s onward.

These include the launch of Malaysia's '2nd Car Company' in Perodua (with a Toyota-Daihatsu agreement with technically good and affordable small cars, putting Proton and Perodua at logger-heads as Saga decreased in price to maintain marketshare, the lowering of import tariff rates aiding competitors, the need to export production around Asia and beyond, and the 1997 Asian Financial Crash which massively damaged Malaysia's economy, undermined its growth plans (eg delayed and shrunk Proton's original 1998 delivery date for the the multi-activity 'Proton City' in Perak province to 2003).

In the midst of these challenges, Proton realised it would need its own brand relevant USP. One which circumnavigated the product, brand and general global marketing strength of Western and Japanese firms; with also the growth of S.Korea seeking to replicate Japan's success.

So a strategy which avoided head-on collisions with the firmly entrenched and powerful, and one which could also serve as a Malaysian national agenda vehicle – internally and externally -given Proton's effective state ownership.

Proton sought instead to self-direct itself as distinctly different by deploying Malaysia's Muslim cultural heritage so as to stand as a 'loud and proud' purveyor of what was to be termed the ideology of the 'Islamic Car'. Since its inception, the Proton logo was a representation of the crescent moon and 14 pointed star taken from the national flag; the crescent moon endemic to Muslim identity.

This seemingly heavily religious bias stemmed from the then Prime Minister's desire to re-balance what he saw as the overt cultural and so income bias of globalisation toward western multi-nationals. Serving as PM between 1981 and 2003, Dr Mahathir Mohamad delivered the raft of change required to transform Malaysia into a modern society. He was a strong advocate of developing countries gaining greater autonomy from western interests, and viewed the relatively advanced Malaysia as the promoter (and in turn gainer) of such a ideology.

Central to this was the idea that those Muslim countries could and should better co-operate to raise their economic activities and global standing, with the deep and broad value-chain of an Islamic Car Industry able to deliver the ambition. Proton was to serve this goal.

Unsurprisingly an alternative 'entry level' brand personality was devised for European export hopes, with a modicum of success in the UK, but little elsewhere These were intended to provide good unit and operating margins from the FX differential, which could then be re-invested both at home and help support the grander worldwide strategic plan. But the cars with low prices and lower quality levels sold poorly in such demanding EU markets and Proton became detrimentally known as a fringe player, arguably damaging its reputation.

A positive note was the Jumbuck small pick-up “ute” in Australia which echoed the penchant for the 'Coupe Utilities' of the 1930s, and recently good ANCAP scores (which may have been possibly subtly massaged given Australia's desire to promote inward investment from Asia into its own auto-sector).

However, export dreams within Asia and the Middle East were better achieved, the pattern growing throughout 1990s and early 2000s, which helped build a basic network of distributors and dealers across the world at its peak, but since retracted to 26 contries.

Foreign demand was needed to offset the sales decline seen within Malaysia. Dropping from 40% share in 2005 to 32% in 2005 given changes in National Automotive Policy and what was seen as lagging product quality issues, seeing Perodua take the market lead. By 2011 the domestic share was 26% and by 2012 at 22%, declining again by 1.3% between 2012 and 2013.

Whilst exports to other Asian and Middle-Eastern Muslim nations have been a patchwork of good, middling and poorer, the company recognised that the “Muslim Car” ideology was untenable. Since the markets in which Proton wished to sell themselves also wanted to promote auto-sector FDI as part of their own growth plans. Moreover, given the high costs of vehicles, purchasers do so overwhelmingly on the basis of perceived cost-benefit and relative social status. Both factors irrefutably connected to the specific critical success factors within product quality; and necessarily formulated within the overall and model project business cases.

To this end, recognising that it must strategically steer itself toward a better tomorrow, as of 2004/5 the company altered its Muslim-esque logo to that of a yellow tigers head within a green roundel upon a blue shield, and then in 2007 undertook a JV with the Chinese company Youngman to which it sent CKD kits for local Chinese assembly.

However, as seen recently with the plummeting of Chinese branded vehicles, it seems that once again Proton is being stymied by the innate global success of the big western firms.

Since 2012 the company has been held by DRB-HICOM, a publicly listed conglomerate with additional interests in Malayisan contract manufacture of vehicles for foreign multi-nationals, property and infrastructure. Exactly where it goes from here will be a case of “watch this space”

Japan's Rigorous Approach -

History foretells that those corporations which have been not simply ambitious, but crucially analytically adept at reading the cultural nuances of various global markets, have better planned to reach their international expansion goals.

By the mid 1960s it was recognised by some leading automotive minds that far more cultural learning than had been traditionally been present was required so to provide success in foreign markets. Of course the more foreign and culturally removed any company was relative to its target export market, the greater the learning required.

Tasked with the post WW2 export drive through the late 1950s and 1960s in consumer electrical and vehicle markets, it was this innate 'foreigness' of Japanese manufacturers relative to their target of North America, which demanded and drove powerful new insights.

This difference spurred many Japanese firms onward to effectively properly de-construct and analyse. Not simply the general market sales data, nor the learning from engineering 'tear-down' of successful competitor products, but little by little to gain far more 'real-world' insights regards the preferences, behaviour patterns and psychological drivers of its prospective customers.

So aswell as Japan's revival of Deming's teachings regards achieving high quality production levels, Japan chose to truly appreciate the subtle often unrecognised traits of American culture.

Beyond the initial marketing success of the 1969 Datsun 240Z, was the work undertaken prior to the launch of the 1989 Lexus LS400; a case study which taught the western auto-sector about the vital importance of “cultural and indeed multi-cultural learning”.

Such remarkable leaps in consumer understanding were albeit slowly adopted by 'the best of the west', often in a fragmented manner given the very different philosophical approaches and methods between Japan and western cultures.

[NB It was the Japanese tendency toward obsession / perfection and the idiom of the “7 questions of why?” drawn from from zen-buddhism, which allowed a deeper delving into prime consumer matters.

Invariably, Japan's self-created advantage did have a general affect across all manufacturers, and slowly the topic of extended consumer insight and latterly cultural learning has taken hold as a distinct input – albeit with varying competence - into the new vehicle development process.

Today, as and when feasible given budget constraints and managerial focus (ie fire-fighting vs true strategic insights), the need to appreciate and inject country and regional specific cultural learning is far better recognised.

The following is a short list of just some of the notable NPD (New Product Development) cases that have been established; the best serving to promote what has come to be known as in-house “Auto-Cultural Laboratories” which exist typically interweaving the Marketing and Design functions.

Notable NPD Case Studies -

Lexus in California:
Toyota's efforts at entry in the American and global luxury car segment would see a level of research dedication never experienced within the auto-sector either before or since. The 'flagship' project later named the LS400 would need to encapsulate all of the conscious and subconscious key elements which as a whole would provide more than the sum of its parts. Do do so, beyond coneventional analysis Toyota set out to get under the skin of premium car buyers. Recognising that because of sunny climate and social progressiveness, Californians were more typically more experientially experimental and so less blinkered to new offerings versus the typically more staid east-coast buyer.

To this end Toyota deployed senior executives to for a necessarily extended period to live as wealthy Californians. Their task to methodically understand the American premium car universe, ranging from the quality and nuances of competitor product from the Germans, Americans and British, through to qualifying and quantifying those perceptional constructs. Furthermore, in an anthropological manner, to desconstruct the 'tribal' behaviour of the buyer set: from the decibel levels of tyres upon freeway concrete that cause aural annoyance to the social coding of golf-club car-park vehicle heirachies, to owner interaction with car-parking valets and the associated key-fob snobbery which exists at expensive restaurants, so in turn affecting service levels.

This case study has by now become well engrained in mindsets of auto-industry executives and led to similar initiatives, though typically not as thorough, from others seeking to mimic Toyota's success.

Mazda in California:
In the mid 1980s with a need to break-out beyond its overtly conventional brand persona in foreign markets, Mazda sought to create spiritual successor of the discontinued small British and European sportscar.

The Austin-Healey Sprite, MG Midget, Triumph Spitfire and Alfa Romeo Duetto had been glamorous and affordable, but a fringe and heavily cyclical breed. These and others had been lost after regional auto-production had been necessarily rationalised and consolidated in the quest for mid 1970s corporate survival.

Moreover the recessionary effects of the 1970s brought forth the mainstream introduction of hatchbacks like the Golf, Fiesta and Renault 5. These in turn spawned respectively GTI, XR2 and Grodini variants, which on cost and safety grounds, effectively replaced those earlier open-topped sportscars.

In a bid to escape its staid character, Mazda sought the return of the affordable sportscar. It executives ran an internal competition between its Japanese and US design studios, the 'truest' archetypical concept (assisted by the alloted conventional vehicle packaging) derived from the unsurprisingly sunny climbs of S. California; itself the target market.

The Miata/MX-5 was internally recognised as to be a direct simulacrum / facsimile of what had gone before, created from a similar 'purist' perspective. However, to enhance the experience into a type of small sportscar hyper-reality, the concept's details were philosophically aswell as functionally deconstructed and analysed. The best known exercise of this process being the first vehicle to receive scientific acoustic tuning of the exhaust system.

Ford in Britain:
Whilst the blue oval has had various design and concept engineering centres at the Dearborn, USA HQ and elsewhere around the globe focused upon vehicles, it was in Dunton, Essex in England (which had historically had served the old Dagenham factory) that a philosophical cultural leap forward was made.

Dunton's own workload had reduced since its heyday serving Ford of Britain and its own semi-dedicated cars, as Detroit sought to better coalesce and co-ordinate the global car platform engineering mentality that appeared with (RWD) Sierra/Topaz platform synergies and the Mk3 (FWD) Escort. This had centred primary engineering work in Dearborn, USA and Cologne, Germany.

Dunton itself became more engine development orientated, along with other specialist research and development work. But the facility also recognised its need for re-invention so as to remain useful within the blue oval empire. Part of this self-re-invention of the early 1990s was an early internal appreciation for the impact of future demographic trend change; specifically the ageing populations of advanced nations.

This inevitable 'grey wave' would have a large effect on car buying preferences and behaviour to which Ford would need to respond.

Seniors knew its own employees across Marketing, Engineering and Design - typically in their 20s and 30s - would need to better appreciate the mindset and lifestyle of this older buyer group. One important aspect was the physical effect of ageing, specifically the decrease of personal capabilities. Learning would be fed-into the design process. 

With assistance from appropriate academic institutions, the idea of possibly the first “OAP suit” was born. A full-body prosthetic suit, which instead of aiding motion, had the deliberate intention of restricting physical prowess for the younger wearer. So as to metaphorically (though quite literally) “get under the skin” of an older person, and his/her required interactions with a potential new vehicle, both in the showroom and during ownership.

The results of the process fed into the dimensional and access/egress specifications of a new generation of vehicles from the late 1990s onward – typically taller cars with bigger door apertures - which were simultaneously also advantageous to 'family functionality' for both the nuclear family group and the extended family group (including grand-parents).

The OAP suit was latterly adopted by other corporations for consumer testing and development aswell as charities etc to demonstrate the effects of ageing.

Peugeot in France:
In recognition of the the dual trends of an ageing European population and the popularity of micro-cars in France, PSA executives critically rationalised its introduction of the wholly logical but somewhat unconventional 'tall-boy' 1007 city-car. With seating for 4 set within a short wheelbase and easy entry and egress via a 2 large sliding doors, its model specific business plan was enabled by the platform economies of scale from its 'parent' cars (the 206 and C3).

Thus with a super-mini's (B-C segment) vehicle width but short (near A-segment) length, the package provided an altogether new offering to Europe. Interestingly, given greatly lowered production / ex-factory cost (indeed far lower as a CKD shipment) with its innate city-driving advantages, it was also notionally considered as a near perfect car for specific EM consumer types. However, it was judged as not befitting PSA's own very necessary Peugeot EM brand introduction strategy which sought to grow far beyond its Euro-centrism (ie Dongfeng JV and shareholding) which means typically entering markets with a more conventional mainstream market family sedan (see 301 model) and now upscale ranges (see DS).

With a lifetime volume over 6 years of only 125,000 it was not commercially successful, but like other unconventional cars (eg FIAT Multipla and Honda FRV) broadened consumer horizons and appreciation.

[NB 'tall-boy' is an originally English 18th century term for freestanding tall chest firniture, but became a term promoted by the mid 1990s by the Japanese with their own tall but short, yet high-volumetric city-based kei cars)

FIAT in Brazil:
The Italian company has been present in Brazil with indigenous production since the early 1970s, but it was in 2002 that the company recognised its new EM era strategic needs. Namely to: a) reduce its global platform and local product development costs, b) orientate itself further to its inroads in LatAm, c) mould a new generation of Brazilian and Latin American engineering and design staff and mangers so as to 'off-shore' Italian research, styling and engineering work and d) increasingly infuse local Brazilian and LatAm vehicles with regional performance capabilities and regional character.

To this end it created its Belo Horizonte facility in Minas state, so as to establish a new prime markets orientated development base. Thus far succcessfully contributing to global platform development and more recent production of the “all Brazilian” Nuvo Uno.

However, given its relatively short 12 year lifespan, and a focus upon ably replicating Italian (and perhaps now America via Chrysler) development processes, the centre itself will not as yet be so experimental, and so culturally expert as the Toyota case study would suggests is possible. Especially so, if as expected, it operates as a locally funded cost centre, given the stagnancy of Brazilian vehicle sales in recent years and so effect upon operating income and central budget.

However, given FIAT's need to remain as the region's #1 manufacturer, it will no doubt seek to get yet deeper under the skin of Latin America to promote and perhaps lead cultural relevance.

Rolls-Royce at the 'London Bank':
The 2003 Phantom model – which effectively resuscitated the modern-day prestige of the marque – was largely created from an especially created design studio termed the “London Bank”, since it was based in an ex-bank's offices.

The site supposedly chosen for its high security function, the project's secrecy being necessarily “vault-like”, the project encompassing “bullet-proof''engineering standards (though specified in Munich) and the final product being “like a safe” in its protection and cosseting.

To a lesser extend this initiative has been replayed in Beijing, wherein local customer likes and dislikes have been translated into China-only client cars; and though far removed from RR's typical understatement in colour and trim, is more muted than the very highly 'stylised' custom preferences of various Arab clientèle.

Nissan 'London Roundel' and Beijing Centre -
Seeking to capture from the very source, the sociographic media, fashion and general trends of design-centric London, Nissan opened its design centre (an adjunct to its Bedfordshire engineering centre) in Paddington in 2003.

Its London home, named 'The Roundel' building (itself an old railway shed) itself has overtones of the design icon that is the London Underground logo. This and the American design centre were used as imspiration for the China located studio established in 2011 and expanded in 2013 to likewise capture Beijing's influential sociographic scene.

Renault Sao Poalo, Mumbai and Togliatti:
Production in Brazil started in 1997, but recognising its lag in LatAm markets versus the dominance of FIAT, VW, GM and newer entrants from S.Korea, China and India, the French company established 'Renault Design America Latina' in the heart of Soa Poalo in 2008.

The same year, after a short-lived production JV with Mahindra and Mahindra for Logan, a design centre in Mumbai was opened, initially as an independent operation that could form the concept work phases of its intention to create a development and production JV with local corporation Bajaj Auto.

This was announced as the first dedicated Indian automotive design studio (in the western manner) using 3-D modelling, interior bucks and full-size 'clay' (modelled vehicle exterior). Similarly, with Renault's major equity share in Russia's Avtovaz, and ambitions to remain the country's preferred home-market brand, efforts to create a design base at the large Togliatti plant have been underway.

Given their relatively recent births, it seems that all studios and development processes will be operationally grown in a phased systematic way to eventually provide true like for like matches vis a vis the central Paris design HQ.

Conclusion -

The 20th century was largely a period in which those countries labelled either 'post-colonial' or 'developing', typically operating with a majority of state controlled industries and commerce, had to be satisfied by the provisioned vehicles imported from the major powers, be they European, Russian or American.

For the much of the century the comparatively rudimentary conditions of the then remote areas meant that simple early era vehicle solutions, capable of basic, capable and reliable performance sufficed. But into the 1960s and beyond, their economic booms – though often short lives - promoted nationalistic modernisation, often witnessing a manic effort across state and private spending to quickly catch-up with the general infrastructure and living standards of the advanced countries. The quintessential city of Brazilia demonstrated that when the opportunity arose it was taken, even if in its case somewhat over-idealistically: as the far inland, overtly car-centric bureaucratic metropolis with a areal layout based upon the silhouette of the aeroplane.

Even so, such advances were compelling not just to the respective populations and governments, but also to the multi-national and start-up vehicle firms who sought to stake their place in the economic evolution.

As time passed so the in-market complexities of such countries grew, and as seen by those case studies which exemplified poor strategic understanding, those which were unable to understand the often obvious real-world needs and expectations balanced against the often over-hyped national and consumer readiness for change and tomorrow's 'advanced markets' technologies.

Those auto-makers which continued to re-wrap old technology under new skin typically served the need for apparent modernisation but with the certainty of necessary reliability. But obviously as infrastructures much improved from the mid 1980s onward across China, SE Asia, S. America and portions of Africa so an opportunity grew to at last properly attain the industrial ideal of global platforms and so vehicles.

But with the recognition that a certain degree of 'glocal' engineering would need to be undertaken to gain necessary cost savings so as to reduce showroom prices, provide dedicated (typically dual role) EM variants and to ensure necessary ride and handling performance. This important to not only provide for tarmac versus dirt-road conditions, but critically to cope with the neglected and deteriorated conditions of even relatively new tarmac roads of urban areas. The result of often under-engineered road-paving resulting from local contract profiteering; plus the fact that the boom and bust economies would inevitably see a diminishing of infrastructure maintenance.

As EM prosperity finally took long-lived hold from the mid 1990s onward – resulting from the upward swing and long haul of the commodities cycle and through economic policy reforms per industries and peoples – so at long last EM regions were able to engender more stable national economic agendas, invest in a new cycle of infrastructure development and I doing so provide their consumers with the finances, confidence and expectations previously only seen in Western, Japanese and latterly S.Korean populations.

This then has hopefully crystallised the notion that those politicians, industrialists and consumers who exist further down the EM scale, far beyond the MINT and CIVETS regions, have a no interest in being viewed by the outside world as 'specialist developing world' cases along with dedicated low-cost, self-build (and invariably under-capable) odd vehicles. For all the humanitarianism such a project might convey [as seen] such entrepreneurs may well promote seemingly ideal tailored vehicles with apparent credibility, but their own passion might also be far greater than their own business acumen, and at worst can be projects which through launch and start-up actually better serve vested interests.

Extinguishing such notions is the fact that today a far more trade-interactive, digitally enabled and truly globalised world has moved on, and with it negation of second-best goods, even if they necessarily contain culturally orientated ingredients.

As seen with FIAT engineering capabilities expansion in Brazil (and indeed Volksawagen's long previous patronage of the country) and Renault in India, the last decade has witnessed major auto-makers moving beyond the single dimension of glocal production, building their own cross-functional capabilities in prime markets from early phase concept work to dealer-delivery with incressingly responsibility for training an enlarging new workforce; one which is being formed to properly replicate their homeland capabilities, in order to serve primary, secondary and tertiary expanding EM markets.

To do so “the shoe has been put on the other foot”, with western players now in the role that Japan occupied during the 1960s (for mainstream) and again in the 1980s (for luxury). It is the Westerners who must now recognise that their innate foreigness must not be viewed as a challenge, but as an opportunity to truly de-construct the obvious and less obvious cultural characteristics of many new markets.

As witnessed, during initial phases of consumption growth in the BRICS, newly arrived (lower) middle-class purchasers will be enthralled with their ability to choose what to them are new and aspirational goods of typically better quality given higher price and historical research input.

Yet albeit slowly, as the once novel becomes the norm for increasing numbers, those trend-setting EM buyers will no longer wish to perpetuate the foreign induced norm. Instead, even though global brands do indeed create cross-cultural 'global tribes' (as seen with apple's iphone and luxury goods), such leading -light influential consumers will as part of their new national and personal confidence,lseek to better reflect and re-affirm themselves entwined within their cultural identit es, so setting-off new directions and threads for product and services development and opportunity.

Instead of reacting to such inevitable social reaction in due course, the global automakers of today have hopefully recognised the need to leverage both their innate foreigness, so as to question national and regional cultural traits, yet also deploy their increasing local market knowledge, through what will hopefully be a new era of holistic perspectives; including the melding of Marketing, Engineering and Design mindsets so as to become much more than simply EM 'au fait'; instead far more 'tête-à-tête'.  

All serious investor types - from large pensions and insurance institutionals to VEBA-like interests - will surely be those who view their interests as not just financial instruments but as fundamental ownership of the auto-business, should demand so.