More Clear-Headed Thinking by the French

This weekend’s election in France suggests that the French electorate may have a firmer grasp on sanity than those in the UK & US.  A recent article in Automotive News, however, suggests that they have a firm grasp of marketing fundamentals as well.  Like a latter-day Alexis de Toqueville, it might have taken the French to reveal something about America that we Yanks didn’t know ourselves: how to sell pickup trucks.

Lafayette, we are here, y’all

Nissan, which is owned by Renault plans to launch its heavily revised pickup truck one region of the country at a time:

The automaker is focusing its marketing and distribution efforts for the Titan on just four U.S. cities — Dallas, Houston, Phoenix and Salt Lake City.
“We’ve concentrated on only those markets at first,” said Christian Meunier, Nissan North America’s senior vice president of sales & marketing and operations. “And once we’re satisfied that we’re where we want to be in those markets, we will then move to our second phase.”

You could argue with kicking off in the Mecca and Medina of pickup trucks, Dallas and Houston; it might have made sense to build up to these key markets rather than to start in them.  However, give the French some credit for taking on the most notoriously loyal vehicle segment in a strategically sound manner.

The article continues by explaining how this slow rollout gives time to train their dealers while allowing the production lines in Mississippi to spool up.  If I were to guess, I’d say that Nissan has made a virtue of necessity.  Namely, a need to start up production limits available vehicles and rather than distribute them to dealers in dribs and drabs, they focused on a few markets.  Focusing on a few markets concentrates marketing dollars as well.  The analog in the digital world is “nail and scale.”

Other vehicle marketers have taken similar approaches to launching in the world’s second-largest car market.  Chevrolet, for example, launched its Bolt electric vehicle in California and Oregon in October of 2016, expanding a few states at a time with the notion of nationwide availability in September of 2017.  However, the Bolt enters the minuscule EV market while the Titan enters a market good for 2.7 million trucks per year.

Swinging back to the political realm, Nissan’s choice of the Southwest may play into a sense of regionalism that sometimes goes unnoticed or perhaps merely unremakred upon.  The cradle of America’s cowboy identity has always loomed larger in the national imagination than the region’s population might suggest.  Perhaps Nissan’s choice of deep-red states reflects not simply the demographics of who buys pickup trucks but rather the need to establish its American bona-fides.  As in, if the Titan is American enough for Texas, then it’s American enough for the rest of America.

Of course, it pays to remember that the French laid claim to Texas both under the Bourbons and Napoleon III.  So maybe they just want some share of vengeance.

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