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Hummer and the value of good user experience

In a recent survey, Hummer was the only U.S. brand in the top 10 in aftermarket value. What was even more interesting was what happened with the imports.

In the midst of all the bleak news for the American car industry, there was a ray of hope of sorts. A recent survey on "retained value" (what percentage of retail price a car maintains on the used market) has the Hummer coming in the top 10. As Autoblog reports:

"[T]he new Power Information Network retained value rankings for the automakers came out, and while the top ten list is pretty much owned by imports, Hummer crashes the party, coming in at the #8 spot. Hummer vehicles retain 63% of their original value, an increase of 3.5% over their last showing. Scion sits in the top spot, retaining 69.8%

Toyota (Scion #1, Toyota #5, Lexus #6), Honda (Honda #2, Acura #4) and BMW (MINI #3, BMW #10) actually account for seven of the top ten, with Subaru (7th) and Nissan (9th) rounding out the list along with Hummer."

So the Hummer (or as the manufacturer would prefer, HUMMER--it's all about the yelling) is the only American nameplate to get into the Top 10. A ray of hope, but also worrying that it was the only brand to do so. And it will be interesting to see if it can sustain that in the face of increasing fuel prices - is this just a residual effect from Hummer's early rep?

Whatever you think about the Hummer, it provides a unique experience, and that is a large part of its appeal. The macho look, the huge size, the gonzo tires, the military image - your basic Chevrolet or Ford or Dodge pales by comparison.

But what was even more interesting was how this played out with the imports. Scion and Mini are both new brands (well, sort of in the case of Mini). Both are distinguished by creating holistic, coherent experiences across multiple touch points. From the cars themselves to their immersive websites, their characterful dealerships, their offbeat advertising, and of course how both allow large degrees of customer involvement in personalizing their rides. In all the ways that they speak with and interact with their customers they have had a clarity of focus to their messages, and executed them spectacularly.

How has this paid off? Scion at #1 outpaced its parent Toyota by 4 places, and Mini at #3 an astonishing 7 places ahead of blue ribbon parent brand BMW. I would argue that the quality and consistency of the user experience created by these brands has had a large role in pushing them so far ahead so quickly. Certainly they are not selling mainstream cars that try to compete on the usual dimensions - bigger, faster, more comfortable, and so on. They have succeed in spite of going against the grain with their product choices. This too has been part of their voice as brands - iconoclasm, appealing to people who consider themselves independent thinkers, yet still style-minded.

Infiniti was the only upscale Japanese brand not to make it onto the list, which in part surely has to do with its confused image for the last 10 years. In the last three years Infiniti has stepped up its game considerably, so expect it to do much better soon. Likewise Acura is on a resurgence after years of producing competent but mostly bland cars, perhaps explaining its sitting behind the lower-end parent Honda.