Erica is a friend of mine who recently became the owner of a used 2006 BMW 750Li. An enviable purchase by any stretch of the imagination, but one she agonized about due to feelings of brand loyalty to another marque.
Erica had grown up a car buff with an appreciation of Mercedes-Benzes like I did, and bought her first one used (an ’88 190E) in 1996. We became friends after meeting in 1998 at a car club show. Today, their collection has grown to over a fourteen Benzes spanning from the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s.
Erica, her husband, and my wife have spent a lot of time together fixing, detailing, and displaying our vehicles at shows. Along the way we met Matt who works for Mercedes-Benz headquarters. Although a few years younger than Erica and myself, Matt shared the same fanaticism we did and bonded with us immediately. His first car in high school was a well-worn ’78 Mercedes 300 Diesel coupe, and he has owned nothing but Mercedes-Benzes since…fluctuating between two to four vintage ones at any given point, and leasing new ones on M-B employee price plans.
On different levels, the three of us are living proof that when you have a propensity to collect cars and a fondness for a car make, owning one tends to lead to owning another until you reach an “equilibrium” with available space and funds. Not to mention spousal tolerance.
Matt saw Erica’s purchase of the BMW as a betrayal of the Mercedes-Benz marque and his employer he identified with so strongly. “Are you crazy, what’s wrong with you!?” he asked. I must admit I had a certain respect for Matt, because this man is so loyal to his favorite car company that he takes it personally when someone snubs or denounces a Mercedes. That’s commitment.
A healthy amount of the car-buying public will always be repeat buyers of the same make, no questions asked. I used to feel as Matt does, but after years of being in the automotive field my enthusiasm for various marques depends on how good what they’re offering is. For folks like Matt, car companies are akin to sports teams and not supporting your chosen one through thick and thin equates to being a traitor.
Contrary to what anyone living in my home state of New Jersey may believe, this sentiment is still alive and well especially among buyers of American full-size pickup trucks. Where my wife is from in Wisconsin, pure brand loyalty goes much further below the surface than bragging rights about horsepower or towing capacity. Ford guys always buy Fords, Chevrolet guys always buy Chevrolets, and neither group plans to switch sides any time soon.
Brand loyalty represents being happy with what you’ve got. I envy that because I seem to be cursed with automotive wanderlust along with a nagging feeling there’s a better product is just over the next hill. For example, if I had bought a new Camaro SS I’d be tormented by the new Mustang Cobra coming out. And if I bought a Mustang Cobra then I’d be concerned Dodge was going to put a turbine engine in its Challenger SRT8.
The positive side is I’m not subject to any one carmaker’s styling or quality whims. In the automotive service business, it’s easy to see when manufacturers decide to save a few pennies where they think no one will be the wiser. And in my lifetime I’ve noticed many an automotive manufacturer waver on the important belief that producing the best car they can is the way to reach automotive nirvana. The cycle that seems so unfortunately consistent among reputable car makers is as follows: work up to producing high quality cars, gain customers, forget what got them there, cut corners on quality to save money, lose customers.
I’ve owned many Volkswagens and Audis, and these days I have gained great respect their products developed under the leadership of former company chairman Ferdinand Peich. I’ve seen General Motors forget priorities for decades until an awakening began five years ago. Even Toyota has suffered quality glitches and recalls in recent years, a victim of becoming too big too fast. Honda, BMW, Subaru, Ferrari and Porsche are examples that come to mind quickly attempting to think of car makers that have had strong ideals, and have never wavered from them. I hope to see an American brand become such an example – Ford and GM are on their way if they do not become sidetracked.
Because when it comes to something you’re passionate about, who wants to settle for mediocrity?