Serving the global customer

  • 24-Jun-2008 09:07 EDT

"The world is driving more toward A, B, and C segment," said CSM Worldwide’s Michael Robinet at the SAE World Congress. "Unfortunately, the U.S. has not really been home to a lot of primary development resources on [those] segment[s]."

As moderator for an SAE World Congress panel session, Michael Robinet, Vice President of Global Vehicle Forecasts for CSM Worldwide, presented some interesting data about the shifting landscape of the global customer. He noted that wealth for the average global citizen is expected to increase 75% by 2030, driven mainly by emerging markets such as Russia, China, and India.

In terms of vehicle segments, “the world is driving more toward A, B, and C segment,” said Robinet, noting that in developing markets, more than 80% of all incremental growth will occur in those segments.

 “Unfortunately, the U.S. has not really been home to a lot of primary development resources on A, B, and C segment,” Robinet continued. “In North America, we’ve traditionally been a full-frame market; but we did get the memo, and we are starting to modify our portfolio more toward the rest of the world.”

To be successful, automakers need to develop a global platform strategy as well as a global powertrain strategy “to really infiltrate these markets,” he said.

General Motors is doing just that, as Michael DiGiovanni, GM’s Executive Director of Global Market and Industry Analysis, explained. “We have global architecture development teams located around the world,” he said.

In the U.S., GM’s focus is on larger vehicles such as mid- and full-size trucks; in Germany, midsize and compact cars; in Brazil, international midsize trucks; in South Korea, small and mini vehicles; and in Australia, rear-wheel-drive vehicles such as the new Chevrolet Camaro coming to market later this year.

“We design the products and engineer them near the heart of where the vehicles are sold so we have our hand on the pulse of regional desires and tastes,” said DiGiovanni. “You can have a common architecture, but there are huge regional differences in what people want in terms of differentiation of that product off that global architecture.”

BMW North America Media Communications Manager Ken Bracht presented research data that might surprise some: from 2005 to 2007, people wanted fewer choices with products, and that includes Gen Y.

“So how does BMW go to the global marketplace?” he asked. “We don’t really differentiate the product that much in terms of the actual platform itself when going to global markets. Yes, we customize things in terms of options or engines, but it’s very rare that we do something specific for a market.”

BMW’s approach, Bracht explained, is to develop new products with a primary market in mind, and then look at secondary markets to see if it makes sense to import the vehicle there.

A rare example of BMW customizing a car platform for a specific market is a 5 Series with 14 cm (5.5 in) added to the wheelbase for China. The luxury market in China is dominated by this class of vehicle, he noted, in which customers tend to be chauffeur-driven.

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