Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Middle Of The Road

Don't you love reading all the lists that come out at the end of the year? Most Affable Car of the Year, cheese of the year, celebrity death of the year; the hits keep on coming. 

I've had a particularly long hiatus from this blog thanks to a properly head busting year and a half of work, so here's my contribution to the period point of 2015. Most disappointing performance, starring the Holden Malibu.

Aiming for the Centre Mass

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, some numbskull decided that Holden needed a new mid-sized car to replace the Vectra. For those who missed the festivities that began with the locally built Vectra B and ended with an over priced, imported Vectra C technical extravaganza, you may have blinked and missed the arrival of the Holden Epica.

Marketing praised its hushiness thanks to a range of "Porsche developed" in-line six cylinder east-west engines..... which basically makes it Holdens 914...but with 4 doors and front wheel drive and made in Korea so......

I drove the 2.0 5M when it debuted and dubbed it "automotive Valium". If I'm honest, at the time I was a bit of a junior when it came to getting the best out an engine, so I may not have been flogging it appropriately. Nonetheless, *yawn* I did find the seats reasonably comfortable but forgot what else I liked before gently putting my head down for a nap.

As time went on, I saw the occasional Epica turn up on my local roads. Then the diesel turned up and the mid sized box of mediocrity become less occasional and more common. 
I'm not talking Corolla levels of ubiquity here (obviously) but there was definitely an up tick of interest from the market. I definitely noted a large number of generally olde folks taking favour with the car of no flavour. 

There was also competition from the Blue corner in the shape of the Ford Mondeo. Sourced from Belgium, it made the Epica look like the value proposition that it was. The Mondeo won every comparison aside from cost, where a mid spec version would set you back around 38k vs the Epicas "top spec" (which was actually pretty basic) which weighed in at 33k.

Five years later, depreciation has set in and the Epica finally fronts up with a win, shedding $25,240 vs $28,890 for a Mondeo Zetec. 

I know what you're thinking: "that's pretty faint praise Mick", and also possibly "what the hell does that have to do with the Malibu?"

I'm getting there.

Who's been to Malibu?

I don't think it was the same numbskull, but it was a numbskull nonetheless, who decided that the global replacement for the slow burning oil burner should be adorned with a very non-global moniker: Malibu. Apparently it's a sunny place in a far away land, but it's also the name of a cumbersome watercraft that doesn't turn very well....

I was just as eager to find a glimmer of hope in the Malibu as I was when I first drove the Epicac. What I found was an alien design with alien fabrics and weird giant buttons. It felt neither sunny nor global, and definitely not local. The diesel was an awful racket and the steering equally disappointing. 

I found some solace in the 2.4 petrol CDX with a fairly comfortable front seat and amicable though distant electric steering. However, the boot was huge and the design (aside from the vaguely Camry-esque front end) had some great angles.

 It wasn't until the second coming of the diesel that I found a product suitable of local acceptance. Adoption of the electric rack made a massive difference and all of a sudden the Malibu had a shot at the market. So what did marketing do? They took a swing at thin air.

The TV ad tried to convey an image of escaping the city. Not exactly unique nor new, but most importantly, it did nothing to get the attention of people who may have been vaguely interested. 

The Malibu is not a bad car. In fact I quite enjoyed using it (ironically) to escape from home for the weekend. I packed up the family with everything we needed for a day trip (which fit easily in the enormous boot) and headed to the country. The kids had fun, my wife was comfortable, and in the name of science, I even took the long way home and gave the Malibu a battering over some local gravel roads. It didn't just survive. It excelled. 

It's a really good car.

In that regard, however, the Malibu is not alone. There are plenty of really good cars on the market. 

Holden did give me the car for a month though, so that I could use it as a basis for comparing commuters over my usual daily commute (105kms each way). I averaged 5.2 L/100kms and got as low as 4.5. This is exactly where the Malibu shines AND it's also where its predecessor gained market traction. 

So my award for most disappointing performance is not aimed at the product itself. It's for the marketing effort not standing up and yelling: "HEY OLD PEOPLE, THIS CAR IS CHEAP TO RUN AND WILL SAVE YOU MONEY IN THE LONG RUN!". I think with more focused presentation, the Malibu could have had a better showing.  

It's like the new Commodore ad. There's no wishy washy "lovely family car for Australia" prattle, just the LS3 punch in the face.

Holden aren't on their own with this, but I hope that in 2016, when advertisers pitch a product, they aim it at a corner of the market instead of general malaise in a general direction. 

Stop pretending your product is all things to all people. Especially when in some respects, it's middle of the road.

Video Review below

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