Many car manufacturers started off with an idea of how their cars should look like. Colin Chapman famously believed in simplicity and lightness, Jaguar was supposed to deliver affordable luxury, Mr Honda wanted to make enjoyable cars, while Ettore Bugatti was all about achieving perfection.
Some manufacturers on the other hand created their identity by building great cars of a certain kind. They've been shaped by the environment that they've been forced to function in, or just found a great recipe that they've stuck to ever since. That''s why Fiat excells at making small and simple city cars, BMWs are about driving pleasure, people from Alfa Romeo know how to inject soul into the dullest of automobiles, and Tesla simply can't be matched for the way their brand attracts knobs.
Then there are carmakers that never bothered to develop a personality in the first place. Toyota, Opel, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Rover, KIA, Hyundai. They're all just corporations, nothing more and nothing less. Their only goal is to make money, and for that they need to fill any market niche they think will be profitable as quickly and cheaply as possible. There's no greater idea and no sort of car they wouldn't create as long as they believe it'll bring money. To be honest, it's hard to blame carmakers for that approach. To those run-of-the-mill car companies a segment that they're not in only means that there is a segment they aren't making money from.
Apart from a handful of true petrolheads people don't care about stuff like brand character. To them, the idea that there is some sort of greater notion behind making cars is preposterous. "A car? I want it to be comfortable, easy to drive, good on fuel, and spacious. What's the point of making cars? The point is to give me a motorised box that takes me home from work." - you'll hear. That's why brand identity may seem like a thing of the past.
But is it really? On one hand we have those who have long forgotten who they're supposed to be. MINIs suffer from incurable megalomania, Volkswagen seem to have forgotten to make anything that's affordable ("people's car" my arse), Chevrolets are more Korean than American, Lancias are about as luxurious and sophisticated as sloppy joes, and even French cars don't break down nearly as much as they should. But then, on the other side, even despite the increasing number of manufacturers who decide to abandon their creeds, there are those who dilligently stick to what they believe is right. You still can't buy a Land Rover that's not at least vaguely competent off-road, a Lamborghini that's tame and slow, or a Lada that's any good. This either means that those brands are unable to adapt to the ever changing market conditions and customer expectations, or that there is a way to stick to what you believe in and still make money. I think that's the optimistic thought I can leave you with.
But what are your opinions on the subject? Do you believe that a proper brand needs a proper identity? Or do you think that sticking to such nonsense just gets in the way of profits? Who do you reckon has strayed the furthest from what they once were and who has stubbornly stuck to their guns? I'm looking forward to hearing what your thoughts on this topic.