Automotive options

As anyone who’s ever bought or leased a car knows, beyond basic transportation there’s always a list of optional extras—ABS, surround-sound, tinted windows, cruise control, coffee maker. You know, the usual. Wait, coffee maker? Have we mixed up categories? No, you read right, coffee makers.

Fiat, once known for the acronym ‘Fix-It-Again-Ton’ and more recently known for Jennifer Lopez ads, has announced that its 500L model will be the first car in the world to come standard with a Lavazza espresso machine, making its debut in Italy before buzzing across Europe.

OK, cards on the table. Our Customer Loyalty Engagement Index covers the automotive category and we have lots of attributes, benefits, and values (including options), so usually we can accurately predict what percent-contribution a change to a car can make to engagement, as we did years ago with the 4th door on the minivan.

But in this case we don’t include anything about coffee makers, so we’re not exactly sure into which category engagement driver we might look to see how strategically leverageable caffeinating a car brand actually is. We can, however, comment as regards innovation, a critical category driver when it comes to engagement and loyalty. After all, Italy is known for design and innovation and coffee. Wasn’t it at an Italian cafe that Howard Schultz got the idea for Starbucks?

Anyway, here’s the top-7 automotive brands when it comes to “innovation.” After 7 they’re all viewed in pretty much the same way.

1. Mercedes
2. BMW
3. Toyota
4. Ford
5. Fiat
6. Mini Cooper
7. Jeep

As you can see, Fiat came up #5. Maybe it’s that Italian heritage they’ve got working for them. And maybe Fiat felt that today’s drivers need more distractions while operating a couple tons of metal, plastic, rubber, and glass. Or maybe drivers need something to keep them awake while sending text messages and reading emails.

Before anyone turns this ‘advance’ into a tempest in a demitasse, you should know that Fiat says that the machine will only work when the vehicle is stopped. Frankly we’re not sure how desirable an in-car coffee machine is going to be for Italians who like their long leisurely lunches, usually on a sun-drenched piazza.

But Americans love innovation and eating and drinking on the go. Keep in mind that while we didn’t invent the in-car coffee machine concept, we did invent the drive-thru.

Someone once defined the word “forever” as the time it takes to brew the first pot of coffee in the morning. Now, if you drive a Fiat, forever just got a lot shorter.


Robert Passikoff

Robert Passikoff is founder and president of Brand Keys, Inc, with 35 years of agency and client experience in all phases of strategic brand planning for B2B and B2C product and service categories.

He pioneered work in loyalty and engagement, creating the Brand Keys Customer Loyalty Engagement Index®, the Brandweek Loyalty Leaders List, the Sports Fan Loyalty Index®, and the Women's Wear Daily Fashion Brand Engagement Index®.

His first best-selling book, Predicting Market Success, provides marketers a 21st century perspective on predictive loyalty metrics. His newest book (co-authored with Brand Keys' EVP of global brand development, Amy Shea) The Certainty Principle: How to Guarantee Brand Profits in the Consumer Engagement Marketplace provides companies with a predictive approach to brand differentiation.

His company has developed research and brand positioning programs for such diverse clients as ABC Television, Ann Taylor, Sears, Best Buy, KeySpan Energy, Citibank, Samsung, Burger King, Cablevision, First USA, Toyota, American Express, AVIS, The NFL, L'Oreal, Apple, Shell Oil, Discover Financial, Neutrogena, OfficeMax, Points of Light Foundation, The New York Times, Eventive Marketing, Hakuhodo, Sunoco, The Body Shop, Liz Caliborne, Kellogg's, Wrigley, Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, XM Satellite Radio, MTV, and The Wall Street Journal office Network.