Coke messed with its formula and almost crashed and burned. Here are three automakers who completely reshaped their DNA and came away winners.
Every automaker in America has a formula. Fans of the brand know that formula in their hearts, whether they can articulate it or not. Here at BestRide, we are students of the automobile and we do know what the formula is for each brand. Here are three that have completely reinvented themselves and come through the process better and more successful in the marketplace.
Honda is now on its third makeover. Initially, Honda in America was a motorcycle company dabbling in cars. Those small subcompacts grew into the Accords and Civics that became market leaders in every respect. Along the way, Honda developed a reputation for making extremely high-revving, power-dense non-turbo (normally-aspirated) engines with most of their pull above 4,000 RPMs. Fans of Honda would eagerly await the newest Civic, S2000, or Acura Integra model to see just how high the redline would be. Would it be 8,000 RPM? 9,000 RPM? Could it ever be higher? Honda rarely disappointed and often set records.
The only difficulty with this philosophy of high-revving engines with power that really kicked above 4,000 RPMs is that most drivers don’t ever use that part of the rev band. Drivers accustomed to larger engines with more torque perceived the Honda engines as “weak.” They were far from it, and often had the most power in their segments, but that didn’t matter to buyers trending toward automatic transmissions who would never even think of redlining a Civic on the way to work. Honda had a problem.
Honda told BestRide that its designers also needed a way to keep weight down as safety equipment added mass. Reducing engine mass was a perfect solution. Honda says that turbocharging meant they didn’t have to compromise on performance. Modern Honda engines in the Civic and Accord, and soon in more models, are now turbocharged and designed to offer a satisfying feeling of acceleration from a stop and in other real-world situations without ever needing to reach for the high RPM ranges. Hondas now feel almost like diesels, with gutsy torque. Honda still offers very satisfying cars, but they way they achieve that result is now 180 degrees opposed from how they did it just a few years ago.
Ahh, BMW. We all know this formula; A rock-solid platform with perfect balance, crisp hydraulically-boosted steering, rear-wheel drive, and a naturally-balanced inline six-cylinder engine coupled to a manual transmission. Actually, BMW tossed out most of that formula a couple years back and decided to keep just the rock solid platform. Our most recent X2 test vehicle was one of the most satisfying BMW’s we have ever tested, yet it has electric steering, a front-wheel-drive layout, almost 60% of its weight over the front wheels, and is only sold with a naturally imbalanced small turbo four-banger coupled only to an automatic transmission. Yet, we love it.
Why do we love it? Because when driven it “feels like a BMW” and makes us smile every time we are in it. Old-school BMW fans may holler and post angry comments under BMW stories about the end of the world, but BMW knows that without small efficient cars selling in high numbers its days are done. So it decided to make the best ones of that type.
Hyundai’s story is well known but keeps evolving as the years go by. What was initially the cheapest car brand you could buy – by all definitions – is now a quality leader. The Hyundai luxury brand, Genesis, consists of two models that knock the socks off of testers. In the past two Best of BestRide contests, Hyundai and its new Genesis brand were peppered throughout the categories earning top votes for the Elantra GT Sport at the low/small end of the market and the Genesis sedans earning votes for best large/luxury vehicles. Hyundai also was a contender in the midsize sedan and midsize crossover segments. Hyundai’s turbocharged engines were one of three we highlighted in our story, “Three Great Turbocharged Engines That Buck the Trend.” From econobox to market leader in many segments, Hyundai has risen about as far and about as fast as any brand could.
But it’s not just BestRide testers who are impressed with Hyundai’s rise from the economy market to the top of the automotive world. Consumer Reports recently named Genesis as the brand that makes the best vehicles, saying, “This year Genesis, the new luxury brand from Hyundai, edged Audi out of the top spot. These two automakers stand apart from the rest in that every one of their tested models is recommended by CR.”
As time passes, brands evolve to meet the needs of their customers. These three brands exemplify how a brave new formula can earn a very positive result.