Consumer Thermostat – Crossover Vehicles are not iPads

Consumer Thermostat

In the “Consumer Thermostat” segment, I will gauge the heat index of various consumer trends, business decisions, and cultural phenomena for your reading enjoyment. What’s hot and what’s not?  First victim: crossover vehicles

What were car companies thinking?!  What insight drove the creation of the crossover vehicle?

Why crossover vehicles are not iPads, a lesson in consumer insight driven innovation vs. “cross your fingers and hope this works” innovation

(Hypothetical) car exec in 2010: “mini-vans are lame, SUVs kill the planet, station wagons are not selling, sedans are for senior citizens, let’s create a mashup, kids love those”

Enough hypothesis, let’s get to the facts:

Let’s begin with Acura. I want to compare the physical specs of their three “larger than sedan” offerings to try to uncover some hidden insights that I, the consumer, don’t plainly see:

Dimensions (length, width, height):

1. 2013 Acura MDX: 192″ x 79″ x 68″

2. 2013 Acura RDX: 184″ x 74″ x 66″

3. 2013 Acura ZDX: 192″ x 79″ x 63″

Cargo room (max cargo capacity, cargo cap., seats in place, # of seats)

1. 2013 Acura MDX: 84ft³, 15ft³, seats 7

2. 2013 Acura RDX: 61ft³, 26ft³, seats 5

3. 2013 Acura ZDX: 70ft³, 28ft³, seats 5

Starting price (Original MSRP):

1. 2013 Acura MDX: $43,280.00

2. 2013 Acura RDX: $35,720.00

3. 2013 Acura ZDX: $50,920.00

After only four years in production, the Acura ZDX was discontinued in 2013 after selling only 5,544 units in the U.S. during that span.

Calendar year US Sales Canadian Sales
2009 79[13] 8
2010 3,259 863
2011 1,564 129
2012 775[14] 110
2013 362 49
Source: Wikipedia

Let’s compare this crossover to a more successful hybrid: the iPad

I know, this may not be a fair comparison given the industry differences (competition, cost, variety of products) and brand loyalty (elasticity, compatibility), but for the sake of argument let’s take a look:

Unveiled in 2010, the iPad bridged the gap between the wildly successful iPhone (sedan) and industry-leading Macbook and iMac desktop computers (SUV/Trucks). Yes, Apple has the cultish following and revolutionary design to “create” the demand for a crossover product, but Apple capitalized on broad industry trends: increasing digitalization of all forms of media.  The wave was quickly building, Apple just had to build the best surfboard to ride the break into the astronomical payday onshore. Netflix, Youtube, Hulu, ebooks, newpapers and magazines were all gearing toward online streaming.  Insight and foresight, rather than hoping and wishing, lead to profitable innovations.

Line for iPad - NYC

What could Acura (and all other crossover manufacturers) have done differently?  Poll consumers of all demographics, test their reactions, perform a little cost-benefit analysis, and don’t force something unless it’s there.

The ZDX model gives no added benefit to the consumer other than exclusivity (read: scarcity) due to low sales volume. If you, like me, want to be the only one on the block with “fill-in-the-blank” consumer product, then the ZDX is for you.  Otherwise, you’re wasting your money.

Built on the MDX frame, the dimensions are nearly the same, but the ZDX holds two fewer passengers, and costs nearly $7,500 more than the MDX. Sorry Acura, the research leading to this business decision was not very Acura-te.

From an aesthetic point-of-view, I don’t need to say much about this bulky, hatchback sedan too tall for the AARP crowd, too aggressive for the Sweet 16 princess, and not sexy enough for anyone shelling out $50k for a carUV. Again, the “contrarian” personality wins again as he/she finds in the ZDX a vehicle that no one else he/she knows, or will ever meet, is driving. Feast your eyes…

2010-Acura-ZDX-28 2013 Acura ZDX

I may have found the intended customer Acura had in mind: a 25-year-old male who plays golf on the weekends (hatchback loading/unloading), wears a suit to work (“grown-up” look of sedan, with SUV feel), and somehow has $50k to spend on his first “car” out of college.  Not a large target demographic.

Your mom thinks it’s too aggressive, your dad thinks it’s too expensive, and your golf buddies think it’s too cute.  Back to the drawing board…

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