By Jay Nagley, Redspy Automotive
The UK car market has tended to evolve at the stately pace one would expect of a sector that is more than 100 years old.
Like the mobile phone market today, the car market once saw brands coming and going at a dizzying pace, but that was in the 1920s.
However, we are now seeing more changes in the market shares of manufacturers than any time since the 1930s.
Brands that have laboriously built up their sales since the 1960s, like Renault, are seeing share tumbling back to where they were decades ago.
Meanwhile, brands like Kia have emerged in the last decade to become major players.
It is clear that buyers are far more likely to change allegiance, becoming more “brand promiscuous”, in the terminology of the marketing departments.
Partly, this is an unintended consequence of cars becoming more reliable.
It may seem strange now, but until the 1980s many buyers did not trust foreign brands with their strange front-wheel-drive cars.
They felt safer with their nice traditional Ford Escort Mark Two, complete with rear drive and rear cart springs – there was so much less to go wrong (at least in theory).
Today, nobody particularly thinks about the technology under the bonnet – indeed they can barely see it under all the plastic covers.
Our attitude to cars has evolved alongside our attitude to food – from steak and chips to Gastropubs in one generation.
With no perceived risk in changing brands, and more focus on novelty as opposed to sticking with what you know, it has become possible for new brands to grow almost as if cars were as new and exciting as smartphones.
That corollary is that if Kia is the Samsung Galaxy of the car market, someone else has to be Nokia.
Ford led the way
Mainstream car companies can now lose market share with a speed previously thought almost impossible.
Rather surprisingly, the first mainstream brand to realise this was Ford.
In a classic case of “so bad it was good”, the 1990 Mark 4 Escort was given such a universal kicking that Ford came to the conclusion that marginally improving new models, as they had done with generations of Cortinas, was no longer an option.
They had to make big jumps to stay competitive, and that led to cars like the Mk 1 Focus, the S-Max and technology like the amazing new 1.0 Ecoboost engine.
With the premium sector growing its share, and new competition in the mainstream sector, life has never been harder for what we used to call “volume brands” – before they started being outsold by Audi and BMW.
What are we going to call them in future –“ legacy brands” perhaps?