During my annual vacations in Puerto Vallarta, I’ve noticed more and more car models available down there that we cannot get in the U.S.
For the past couple years, I’ve been seeing the Nissan X-TRAIL — an attractive, smaller SUV that is most likely car-based. At least in Mexico, it prices in just below the X-Terra we can get here in the U.S. It seems like it’d be a nice competitor to the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Ford Excape, etc. So why doesn’t Nissan sell the model north of the border? Nissan’s small SUV is the rugged, truck-based X-Terra. But in other SUV segments, Nissan offers both ends of the spectrum. In the mid-sized segment, they offer the truck-based Pathfinder as well as the car-based Murano. So why not offer the X-Trail here, too?
I’ve also noticed that many of the European makers sell their vehicles in Mexico yet remain out of the U.S. market — Alfa Romeo, Renault, Seat, Peugeot. Oh, how I wish they sold the Alfa 156, Renault Laguna, Seat Cordoba or the Peugeot 406 coupe here.
I realize that it is expensive to move into a new market. They’d need to set up dealership networks, merket the vehicles, etc. But it seems like the payoff would be much greater in the world’s most lucrative auto market. If they’ve already developed the channels to import the cars into North America, it seems silly not to tap into a much larger market that’s right there.
In the past, cars have been marketed primarily through expensive advertising such as television and national magazines. But it seems to me that cars could be marketed very effectivly without resorting to the high cost advertising used by GM, Ford, Toyota, etc.
But autos lend themselves to word-of-mouth marketing better than nearly any product. They’re an emotional purchase — how many people spend so much more than they’d need to for basic transportation because they love the design, performance or status of a particular car. These cars are driven places and they act as billboards just by being on the road. That’s exactly how I learned about the models referred to earlier. And how many people attend auto shows each year? Auto shows provide a perfect opportunity to put a product in front of the target market, both those looking for a new car as well as car buffs who are often asked for advice by friends and family. Car magazines provide free coverage (well except maybe the cost associated with loaning a demo car), and give consumers more insight into their performance. And don’t forget the web. Studies show that a large majority of car shoppers begin their research online before ever heading to a dealership, and the combination of manufacturer sites, general auto sites and fan sites provide a number of opportunities to spread the word about new models available.
Hopefully, some of the Euro car makers will realize this and return to the U.S. market. Alfa has been discussing it for years now, and I can’t wait to get myself a 156.