Silly Little Cars Doing Damage To The Industry?

I read this article on the All Cars Electric site this evening. It’s about some of the more embarrassing electric cars seen at the Geneva show last week. Electric cars can be fun. There is no need whatsoever for them to be poorly designed and shoddily built sheds with plugs attached. Okay, there are a couple of reasons. First that the manufacturers are naive and second that they’re venal. I don’t know which are which and I’m not inclined to find out.

The link drawn in the article between the kit car world and the car industry is good but I disagree. EVs are still very much a niche product, just one in which the major manufacturers are beginning to take an interest. Nissan has recently built its millionth Qashqai. It did that in just over four years. It’s going to build only 50,000 Leafs this year. Production will increase when its US and UK plants come on stream but that’s not going to be for some time yet. I don’t think that Volts will outsell Tahoes in Chevrolet dealers or Amperas do more business for Vauxhall than Astras or Insignias any time soon. It’s not because they’re bad cars but because in spite of the money they’ve invested in developing EVs, they and their dealers would rather sell cars they know to customers who just want to buy a car.

EV customers, or at least the early adopters, are going to know more about EVs than the dealers and will care about them more than the people who build and sell them. It’s an odd situation. The time will come when the enthusiasts have all bought their vehicles, assuming that they can afford them. It’s what will happen then which intrigues me.

Nissan in particular has a problem. A Leaf is an expensive piece of kit. It’s the same price in the UK as a 370Z roadster but it’s not going to attract the same customers at all. Nobody is going to wander into its dealers to buy a Micra, Juke or Qashqai and walk out with a Leaf unless the salesperson is an absolute superstar. The Leaf is a stand-alone product and one which has to establish its own infrastructure of customers and fans. Nissan is working hard to do that with an interesting social media marketing campaign but it can’t call on a body of existing customers.

Ford, GM, Toyota and Renault will all bring cars with plugs to market during 2011 and 2012. In a sense, Nissan will find it easier to sell Leafs to the wider public when it has more competitors. The manufacturers will have to sell the idea of cars you can plug into the wall. When there are more of them doing that, the message will be spread to more people more of the time. When that happens, any damage done by the likes of the execrable G-Wiz will be forgotten.

When Harry Met Sally. (Not Really.)

Because When Ford Sued Ferrari wouldn’t really have worked as a title. Well, I thought about it and then changed my mind. I mean, I wanted to do something about faking a spectacular orgasm but couldn’t work it in neatly enough. There was something about faking a spectacular toy ejection from an over-large perambulator but that doesn’t really work either.

Anyway.

Ummm, Ferrari F150, I think...

Ford is launching a lawsuit to protect its trademarked “F-150” nameplate which gets attached to monstrous pick up trucks against those well-known commercial vehicle builders in Modena, Ferrari.

And this is the Ford F-150, isn't it?

Ferrari has called its 2011 F1 car F150 in recognition of the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy. Who wouldn’t want to mark that in some significant way?

Unfortunately, Ferrari’s evident patriotic pride has upset Ford to the point that in order to protect the investment they have made in the F-150 name, Ford is spending money on a lawsuit in a US District Court. The damages they are seeking will probably be less than the amount they have to spend on lawyers. Daftness, if you ask me.

It’s worse than that, in fact. Ford sells thousands of these things in a year and the business is very profitable for them. They will probably sell more of their F-150s in a few minutes than Ferrari will build in the course of the 2011 season, even if Alonso and Massa go on a bit of a banzai bin it spree all year and destroy a chassis each at every race meeting.

If the Ferrari turns out to be a dog this year, then at least we’ll all have a chance for some good pick-up truck jokes.

As with most things in business, there’s a long back story to this. Back in the early 1960s, Ford almost bought Ferrari. They fell out over how much control the Old Man would retain over his beloved racing team and the deal fell through. Ferrari sold a stake in his company to the Agnelli family and FIAT and Ford went on a spending spree to beat Ferrari at Le Mans. Ford, or maybe Lola, built the GT and won in 1966, 1967, 1968 and 1969. Ferrari hasn’t won at Le Mans since. This is an old, old family feud.

Ford has a history of winning but occasionally its lawsuits come unstuck. A British kit car manufacturer called Dutton was producing a faux-roader called a Sierra in the late 1970s. Ford wanted to use that name on its replacement for the Cortina. It sued Dutton and was forced into accepting a compromise; Dutton could continue to use the Sierra name as long as they referred to is as the “Sierra kit car.”

I like the F-150. If I were in the market for an oversized beer-hauler, I’d have one rather than the Dodge or Chevy alternatives. And Ford is a company with some momentum now. The new Focus is in the dealers and, slightly apologetic looks apart, is set for success. There’s an electric version of it coming soon to grab attention from the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf but this week, they’ve shot themselves in the foot. Shame.