Will new cars for new markets tarnish iconic brands?

My wife has no real interest in cars beyond pretending to listen to me talk about them, but this past week, she has made two observations that have made me think about cars, the type of cars being made by manufacturers and who they are trying to appease with those cars.

Observation 1: We sat and watched a motoring program, which compared a Porsche 911 Carrera S and a BMW M6 on the track. The M6 was slaughtered by the Porsche, despite carrying a huge power advantage. My wife said the Porsche looked “lovely, like a real Porsche should look,” but that the BMW was “dull and boring and looked just like any old car.”

Observation 2: We’re looking to replace her old Land Rover Discovery with a something newer. She is dead set on a Discovery TD5. I suggested a VW Touareg, Porsche Cayenne or BMW X5 as alternatives. Her response was that she would look stupid turning up at the stables where she keeps her horse in a Porsche, VW or BMW off-roader.

“Only a Land Rover will do,” she said.

After the initial shock that she actually cared about what the other women at the stables would think of her car I came to realize that image is important even for car buyers who aren’t car enthusiasts. If you are reading this, you probably care about cars and what people think of your car.

The revelation is that the average person does, too.

BMW, Porsche, Land Rover and the other luxury manufacturers have core markets and new or developing markets. The core markets tend to be Europe, the U.S. and the Middle East. The newer markets are China, Russia and India, which provide for a heck of a lot of sales. A huge amount.

BMW’s model range is huge – trying to reach into each and every niche in every market possible. They are already being derided for some of their newer cars, which could be described as visually challenging to western consumers, but specifically target these newer markets. BMW is prepared to damn the image. But they are here to make money, not look pretty.

Porsche sells vast amounts of cars to the newer markets, of which more than 50 percent are Cayenne SUVs – hugely different vehicles to what consumers think Porsche represents. There are also vehicles for which Porsche takes flak from those who think it should stay pure to their sports car ethos.

The problems come if the newer markets hit the buffers. If China and Russia have their own financial crises and stop buying luxury cars and the manufacturers run home crying, will we still feel the same way about Porsche and BMW – and Bentley if they make an SUV? Or will they be tarnished somehow for having sold out and produced what some think are awful cars for the “new kids” on the block?

U.S., UK and European buyers tend to be very conservative.

The one manufacturer who has retained a sense of dignity and has kept its model range trim and tight is Land Rover. Their products are so good, they are sold worldwide in largely the same form. Everyone wants a Range Rover or an Evoque.

But will the UK and U.S. want BMW 3 GTs when the bottom falls out of the new markets’ economies?