What constitutes a luxury car is all about perception and brand image, says Caroline Kidd.
What do a Mercedes-Benz S-Class and a Ford Mondeo Vignale have in common?
Very little you would think. The S-Class is Mercedes-Benz’s flagship saloon with perfumed cockpit and hot stone massage effect seats, while the Vignale is Ford’s vision of a luxury car to rival prestige brands.
With both these products, Mercedes-Benz and Ford are selling the promise of a luxury experience, a break from the norm and a product to be enjoyed by an elite group.
Which is probably true for the Mercedes-Benz. At €98,000 it’s luxury transport in the traditional sense – transport for diplomats, royals, oil barons, heiresses and Enda Kenny.
But Ford may have a more difficult task ahead marketing the Vignale as more than just a Mondeo in posh trim. A Mondeo will never be a luxury car by any stretch of the imagination – no matter how much velour, quilting, leather or LED lights you throw at it. The perception of Ford making luxury cars is just not there.
It’s the same reason why Toyota and Nissan introduced new brands, Lexus and Infiniti, to market luxury cars, presumably because you would have to be a magician to convince someone that a Toyota or Nissan is a luxury car that could compete with an Audi or BMW.
There is a powerful rhetoric in the media that the luxury car market is the way forward. The headlines scream rising share prices, profits, sales and market growth for the likes of Jaguar Land Rover, Bentley and the German trio of BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi. It’s no wonder mid-market carmakers like Ford are chomping at the bit to get in on the luxury action.
But what defines a luxury car in 2014? The old clues like advanced technology, nice interior and drive can be found in lots of cars now. Heated seats come as standard in a budget SUV like the SsangYong Korando. I can get a starry-night effect illuminated headliner like the one in a Rolls-Royce Wraith in a €15,000 Opel Adam. Automatic parking? Voice controls? That’s standard fare in most run-of -the-mill hatchbacks now.
Luxury is a perception based on history and pedigree that cannot be manufactured so easily in a factory overnight. The feeling and experience of a luxury car – carpets, quilting, wood, an interior put together with real thought and craftsmanship, top notch driving experience, excellent customer service – is one we construct ourselves. We know when we see it. Our brains cannot be cheated into thinking that anything other than an opulent Bentley or a technological wizard like the Audi A8 can give us the luxury we are looking for.
16th January, 2014