Having succumbed to too much food and drink recently, I thought I could become a candidate for The Biggest Loser, the TV show that challenges a group of overweight people to drop pounds in a Survivor-like blend of tasks and contests. Just as I had that thought, a Mercedes R-Class passed me on the street, and suddenly I felt good about myself at Mercedes’ expense.
The R-Class has been a flop, and it's been defanged even for the latest model year. At least when it made its debut, you could get an R-Class V-8 with gusto and grunt. We won’t go into the looks because I’ll get nasty. But technically, it was as good as any Mercedes vehicle, with all the comfort, convenience, safety and performance any driver could wish for.
Then M-B gave us the diesel option, which really was a smart move as compression-ignition torque is an amazing thing to experience, plus it got a facial redesign that wasn’t half bad. Yet, meager sales of the Mercedes R-Class ensued, in the low thousands. You have to wonder what the Benz Boys were thinking when they made this car. Either they didn’t ask their customers, or if they did, those customers lied or were on serious medication.
So what does BMW do? They decided to crib from Stuttgart’s product developers and they made the 5-Series GT, a car that makes the R-Class look like Howard Stern’s wife, Beth O. That isn't easy. There was a great article on Automotive News about the poor 5-Series GT sales (under 3000) and the reasons behind it. In my not so humble opinion, it isn't just that it’s grossly overpriced compared to a way more useful BMW X5. The 5er GT is u-g-l-y.
Technically it’s up to BMW snuff with turbocharged DI engines, safety kit out the wazoo, build quality to rival a custom-made kitchen, yet it sits on dealer lots like a mechanized wart. I saw this car up close at last year’s auto show and thought BMW had lost its edge. I had also read that this vehicle was intended for China and the USA markets. Not sure how it’s selling in China, but it’s a dud on this side of the pond. BMW made an R-Class with better handling and decided to do the neither-fish-nor-fowl thing, and no one will buy it. A bloated-looking $60K hatchback? That’s the bad kind of cachet to have.
2009 Mercedes-Benz R Class
However, I have another theory why these two losers won’t sell. People buy lots of ugly cars all the time, ones that don’t really meet our needs, or if they do, they provide some conversation fodder and weird loyalty despite being hideous contraptions (Pontiak Aztek anyone?). So what convinces people to lay out large chunks of disposable income on ugly vehicles like the BMW X6, or the GMC Yukon Denali (yet not on the R-Class or 5 GT)? Simple: Good advertising.
Neither the R-Class nor the 5 GT have anything good, which I find shocking for such accomplished car marketers as Benz and BMW. I scoured the web for decent ads for these two losers. I came away with little if anything.
Don’t believe me? Just look at the ads below. Specifically draw your attention to the second BMW ad, a three-minute affair that is punishingly stilted, trying to explain the target market for this car. What were they thinking over there in Munich? Some guy with a funny accent, lots of cartoon drawings. This pales in comparison to their many gems. And the first ad just shows shots of the car driving, showing its worst aspect - the outside.
However, Benz is not any better. The first ad barely shows the car, barely explains why you want one, and actually emphasizes the message that the R-Class doesn’t know what it is. Brilliant. And for a really good laugh, watch the painful, embarrassing ad with Roger Federer. I know it’s intended for Asia, but that can’t be an excuse for this ad. You will laugh and shield your eyes, like someone making an idiot of themselves during a wedding speech.
You want to sell cars? Even expensive ones that make little sense to anyone with half a brain and a lot of cash and a good credit rating? Advertise them well and make them appealing.