Category Cars

Hi there. I'm a Partner at Undercurrent, where I lead a team focused on helping ambitious organizations operate in ways that are beneficial to all their users.

Marketing a $1mm Hypercar


Make a video like this.

Great Media: Chevy Volt Journey

In the category of amazing media buys, here’s an offering from Chevy for the Volt. It’s called “Chevy Volt Journey” and it takes fairly simple (if old-school and frequently shitty) digital implementations – frames and expandable banners – and turns them on their head.

NB: I pitched this internally at a previous job and was vigorously shot down by the media department. That was a big bummer. “NB” ≠ not bitter. Anyway.

Click the banners and you get something you’re probably interested in. Amazing.

The nuts and bolts of it are as follows:

  1. Chevy has purchased media and development across the network of Federated Media (FM) sites
  2. For their dollars, they get to put FM content into a branded, expandable frame that doesn’t send you to a Chevy Volt microsite or configurator, but rather to something else you’re likely to be interested in
  3. If you expand the frame-banner-jobby, you get a set of sliders that allow you to customize the content that appears in the the frame, thus personalizing your “Journey”
  4. The sliders relate to key attributes of the Volt, and you can’t turn all of them on at the same time. Because that’s not the way content works:
    • Environmental
    • Tech
    • Mobile
    • Design
    • Volt (of course)
  5. And because FM has so many awesome sites for the somewhat affluent, interested-in-design-and-digital-and-the-environment types, you’re highly likely to click into something excellent

They even did it with the rich media. Interestingly enough, you can’t click from these banners to a Chevy-owned domain. Because that doesn’t matter whatsoever.

Why? If people want a Volt, they know where to go to find information. They don’t need a banner to tell them where to go. But if StumbleUpon, Percolate and Google Currents are any indicator – and I think they are – people do need advice on places to find content they’re likely to enjoy.

Go here to see it live.

Two lessons: first, make your media dollars do something for your target audience, not just for you; second, look to inspiration from currently successful digital things when you design your own.

Nice work, Chevy media people, wherever you are.

1925 Bugatti Type 35B

So this just might be the most gorgeous thing I’ve ever seen.


Look at the leather bits.

The simplicity is just wonderful. And it should be for $690k.

Found here at Uncrate. Photos jacked shamelessly from the auction page here at Bonham’s.

Oh, beautiful Ferrari

This is nice. It’s a Shell ad that follows Ferrari F1 cars through various major cities. I can’t even fathom how much this must have cost, but it’s beautiful, even on YouTube. This is one of the better-optimized web videos I’ve seen.

Claude Lelouch’s Rendezvous… from Dat on Vimeo.

As is this. It’s part of a mashup between Google Video and Google Maps that tracks the progress of Claude Lelouch through Paris in 1978. Apparently Lelouch was a film director back in the day that had an F1-driving friend. They put a steadycam on the front of a Ferrari 275 GTB (thank God they weren’t doing this kind of stuff in a 250) and tore through Paris, topping out at 140 MPH. All without closed roads.


And then there’s this, Victory by Design. I used to have a link to the hour-long program, but it seems to have been taken down, sadly enough. The quality was good enough (both the program and the optimization) that I felt like web video could really replace TV. But now if you go here you can see all the segments in a row. Not as good at all, but still, it’s a great series.

By the way, why is YouTube’s internal search so terrible? It’s easier to type in “blah blah Youtube” to Google than search with the Youtube-supplied search. They should fix that.

Mmm. Targeting by BMW.

I love it when ads are done well. Especially when they’re targeted at me. Because then I am really certain of my love. This BMW ad is beautiful. It’s aimed square at people who already love the BMW 3 series. Gosh I love it.

Beautiful. The new BMW M3.


So fresh and so clean. Thanks, Chris Bangle, for being a visionary even as others doubted you.

The new M3 was unveiled in the UK earlier this week. Somehow they’ve figured out how to stuff a 4-liter V8 in there, giving the car 420 horses and 400Nm of torque. Ridiculous. And get this… it gets 22.8mpg in everyday driving. That’s 8% better than the outgoing model. With a 26% increase in output. All through the use of lightweight componentry–including a composite roof formerly only available on the CSL model–and Brake Energy Regeneration (like the system they use on the Prius) to power the car’s electric parts with otherwise wasted energy. So when you slow down you power up. And that V8 is 33 pounds lighter than the V6 it’s replacing, thanks to F1 lineage. Win on Sunday, sell on Monday.

Though official lap times on the Nurburgring Nordschleife have yet to be released…

Hopefully when it comes out in 2009 I’ll have enough money to get one.

Here’s some design candy for you.






That’s the lightweight carbon-fiber roof that helps the car be more efficient, while having a lower center of gravity for better driveability.


Sensible but still cool-looking 40-series Michelins.

Ahh, the joys of the already-pimped auto.

Great car ads

Love to see things like this. Hilarious, good-natured fun. Via the Hidden Persuader.

From Hidden Persuader

From Hidden Persuader

From Hidden Persuader

BMW Art Cars

Frank Stella

Frank Stella, Art Car, 1976 – BMW 3.0 CSL

Ken Done

Ken Done, Art Car, 1989 – BMW M3 group A racing version

Roy Lichtenstein

Roy Lichtenstein, Art Car, 1977 – BMW 320i group 5 racing version

Andy Warhold

Andy Warhol, Art Car, 1979 – BMW M1 group 4 racing version

Since 1975, BMW has been having iconic artists designing one-off paint schemes for their cars. In addition to the Warhol, Lichtenstein, Done and Stella cars above, I’ll be uploading designs by A.R. Penck, Alexander Calder, David Hockney, Matazo Kayama and Jenny Holzer as they become available.

I love the combination of art and engineering; each of the above cars (in racing livery) were technological marvels and successful racers. BMW’s designs, even without the arty paint, are timeless.

Also worth checking: BMW Global hosts an interesting “BMW Culture” site. Perhaps this–despite their weird new campaign–is one of the reasons why they are doing so well amidst a sea of failing automakers. That their cars are pretty good probably helps a bit too.

All photos © 2003 BMW AG, München, Deutschland

The “M” Brand

That's a nice family

Above: a line-up of all the M5s through history. Some might say that the earlier M5s were more “authentic”, but I’d say they really hit their stride in Generation 3 (2nd from the right). It’s still the one that I’d want most. It’s a little more sedate than the current (with a V8 as opposed to a V10…seriously?) model and I love the little details (like the rear valence with the quad pipes).

I’d say, though, that the M brand is one of the strongest in auto-land. The “M” (Motorsport) division of BMW was founded in 1972, and has been turning out a limited number of selectively modified versions of BMW street cars. Every M car is a ground-up, fully realized version of the BMW “Ultimate Driving Machine” vision.

Side note: did they really scrap that tagline?

Their biggest strength is their trueness to their original purpose. They are a division of BMW dedicated to the advancement of Motorsport. They don’t exist to plus-up normal cars, or to provide a halo for the rest of the brand. M is about function, performance and great design. It certainly doesn’t stand for Marketing, even though it’s a great tool to have at one’s disposal. After all, I can’t think of any negative opinions about BMW M. In the automotive press, they can do no wrong. And it’s my feeling that it’s the same way with drivers.

Another one of their strengths is their strong association with a driver’s identity. BMW M is 100% about driving, and if you’re a “real” driver, and you love “driver’s cars”, then you must for authenticity’s sake drive an M. And this is in stark contrast to Mercedes’ AMG. AMG, today, is about enormous engines and nice wheels, but not much else. It’s about flash and conspicuous consumption. It’s about my AMG SL65 being that much more powerful than your SL 600. And think of all the other brands in this category. Jaguar’s R? Toyota TRD? Mazdaspeed? STi? Cadillac and their -V cars? None command the same authority.

Wouldn’t that be a nice position?

Image © BMW AG

Ford & Jaguar – Big Loss

As reported by the Chicago Tribune last week, Jaguar is Ford’s big loser, and a majorly defunct part of its Premier Auto Group (PAG). That’s a cryin’ shame.

While I’ve talked about my obsession with beer a few times in this blog, I’m also more than a little crazy about cars. And it makes me really angry when the great brands of the automotive world are tampered with. For example, I hate that the new Bentleys are really, really cool versions of the Volkswagen Phaeton. And they’re so curvy. Sure, they sell well, but they don’t have the same cultural weight that the old Bentleys had. And if you head down Rush St. in Chicago, they’re everywhere. So much for massclusivity. That’s just mass.

And I had to choke down the idea of the Porsche Cayenne…yet another disguised VW product…because it ensured that Porsche could stay afloat. But it’s still not right.

And then there’s Jaguar. Bought by Ford in 1989–when they were making some of their ugliest-ever cars–they enjoyed some success but are now falling again on hard times. Jag’s offerings were the only line of the PAG not to post growth…and among Volvo, Aston and Land Rover, it’s not like they were the only ones with suspect marketing.

But what’s the real issue here? It’s a loss of authenticity. Jaguar succeeds by being true to its English roots, true to the luxury represented by the timeless designs. Not by creating hotted-up versions of the Ford Mondeo. Not by letting everyone own a Jaguar. It’s not a brand for everyone. It’s not “meant” to be a product of a multinational, foundering automotive giant. And that’s why they’re losing money. Make cars that are authentic to what Jaguar is about, to what Jaguar lovers expect their brand to be, and watch the sales grow.

Apparently Ford has no plans to divest any of their brands. But I really hope some smart, rich English guy or gal buys Jaguar and makes it right. Any takers?