Wednesday, 28 August 2013

The end of the line for VW camper vans ?

Sadly, VW do Brasil has announced its plan to terminate production of the iconic type 2 bus.

Boasting the longest commercial production line of any vehicle, manufacture having started in Hannover, Germany in 1957, this truly marks a milestone ending for what has become a modern day style icon.  News, in my humble opinion, probably worthy of wider media coverage.

Initially conceived as a utility vehicle based on the innards of the Beetle, a simple box on wheels solution that came from a napkin sketch by Dutchman Ben Pon solving a problem for a cost effective light goods vehicle to help much needed economic activity following the devastation of the Second World War.  Its versatility has seen it utilised in a wide range of roles from ice cream vans, ambulances, minibus, goods vehicles and because of its low cost and reliability, a popular choice as a camping and surfing transporter. 

Splittie with starring role at Hampton Court flower show 2013
Of course platform sharing is these days considered an important scale economy requirement in the industry and the Volkswagen group routinely do this across both their model ranges and brands (including Audi, SEAT and Skoda badges). 

The concept was pooh-poohed by Lord Rootes, legend of the UK car industry when the Wolfsburg factory was under British military control. History has clearly proven him wrong.  (And what happened to the British auto industry ?) It was also targeted by the US auto workers union (UAW) for a special import tax, which exists still today....Land of the Free and all that.  The eventual end of line decision, forced by environmental and considerations according to The Telegraph (Aug 2013), has finally come.  Other media sources site a different justification, that of the cost of implementing modern safety requirements. 

In auto manufacturing the announcement of ceasing production would usually result in lower demand, and require price discounting, as consumers consider challenges they are likely to face in maintaining and reselling their vehicle.  (Food manufacturer Heinz cleverly used a line closure notice to boost demand for its ever so old fashioned sandwich spread product, a quaintly British mix of salad cream mayonnaise and chopped veg)  A ploy used by the German auto giant when it stopped European production of the Porche designed and Hitler inspired peoples car, the Beetle, was to offer limited edition end of line models in just silver and gold.  For a short while back in the day our family motor was indeed a golden 1303 Special which was eventually sold on to become a drag racer in Australia. The golden Beetle memories remain strong. 

A similar strategy is being adopted for the last of the infamous buses, having also been produced in Hannover, Germany,  Australia and South Africa and a total production run in excess of 2 million units.  600 blue and white commemorative edition vehicles will be produced to mark the event and undoubtedly see demand exceed supply.

The final production run of 600 in two tone colouration
There has been much speculation over a replacement Type 2. Two concept cars have been demonstrated at the industry shows, one in 2001 (deemed too expensive) and the second in 2012 (boxy, boasting fold flat seats and iPad technology), although VW remain tight lipped about their plans for any commercial release. 

The modern day retro styled Beetle (or Type 1) has enjoyed some commercial success, particularly in UK and USA with its Golf platform based reprise of the original concept. Now in its third mark, and boasting a fatter, flatter rear and pokey engine ranges, a clear attempt has been made to bolster its desirability amongst male consumers with visible product changes and subtle promotion focussed on the PS, German short hand for horse power.   Even though I have driven mark 1 and 2 new Beetles for over ten years now, it has been very much the choice of a middle aged woman, only recently are decade old cars now cheap enough for youngsters to pick up in the used car market. 

Great care needs to be taken with any re-launch, as it would seem an important part of the allure of the original VW bus range was its out of the ordinary looks, boasting curved panels and circular eye like head lights that saw many name their buses and talk about them with human qualities.  A design which is too sophisticated and too expensive will cannibalise the existing and reasonably successful California range in a highly diversified and competitive market segment that needs to include consideration of caravans and variants such as the Dub Box (pictured below).   

Now call me a wise old bird, or at very least a little bit to long in the tooth, but if I were a marketing manager looking to launch a new retro styled VW bus, I think I might seek to avoid the Coca Cola error of letting consumers prefer the old version.  I would want to look to concentrate media coverage on the new and not the old and just take this out of the picture altogether.  So, does the decision to terminate production really have to be on environmental grounds or as more widely mentioned in the press due to the costs of implementing contemporary safety measures (air bags and alike) ?  Surely you can put catalytic converters and newer engines to address this issue ?  Perhaps environmental and safety grounds better than boring hard economics, the cost of re-invigorating the Brazilian line is not sufficiently commercial ?  Or is this merely a smoke screen for clearing the decks for a big bang re-launch next year ? 

But take a look at this YouTube hosted ad (above) from 2011/12 celebrating 60 years of VW heritage in the working van market.  Centre stage a lovingly cared for Type 2 splittie, the wide and deep (?) emotional attachment and tremendous cultural capital the camper van holds surely makes this a prime contender for a re-launch some time soon ?   Or perhaps "God only knows ?"
Thanks to Peter Jukes for the first photo, flower power@Hampton Court Flower Show.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

The Buddha of Salema

I like to use this writing space to stretch and challenge my (limited) writing capability. Thence a rather different write up of my recent family vacation sojourn to the south west corner of the Algarve, Portugal.

The real Muscle Beach ?
One of those unexpected moments just "happened" one day whilst I was on vacation in Portugal on my constitutional morning beach walk.  Just past muscle beach along the sandstone cliffs of Salema, I happened upon a vision in red, legs crossed in meditating stance on a enclosed, private space.  Serious, concentrated, dark flowing hair, deeply tanned skin, a svelte body, and really quite the opposite of the more usual image of Buddha. 
Recently I have been pondering inversions (inspired by the "think small" Bernbach VW Beetle revolutionary advertising approach) and looking for interesting examples to use in my teaching.  An example would be the Guinness beer brands stream of campaigns that have sought to differentiate and make a virtue out of what might be viewed as a competitive disadvantage of a very slow pouring service proposition. 

I was really rather captivated by the idea of sublime isolation surrounded by stunning natural beauty.  A picture to capture and store the moment would have been fantastic, but alas no camera was to hand, asking permission probably inappropriate and stealing an image, even if undiscovered, highly unethical.  

Thus, on my return leg, I sought to re- affirm the vision I had seen, which was starkly memorable because of the crossed legged sitting pose and the sense of peaceful, almost smug sense of self-indulgence.  I was jealous, because in my busy life I rarely get to spend time this way.  However, it was not to be, not even a clear trace on the sand was apparent.  In fact. I even doubted that the vision had happened at all. 
It got me thinking about meditation, as a form of inversion. One of my old BA team members, Rob Blake, had always been very outspoken in our office space about the benefits he obtained from regular, daily meditation.   (Rob was one of those uber colourful characters you never forget)  His ritual included focused clearing, emptying ones head of all thoughts, the pushing away of negative thoughts and developing a clear sense of prioritisation of what was important. 

For Success and Happiness: Be Clear, prioritise.

I am not a Buddhist, but this approach of focusing on the important and not getting distracted by the trivial urgent, setting achievable goals seems to have considerable merit.  Perhaps the technique of using a check list can provide a stress reducing framework for each day or week and provide a strong sense of progress and achievement.   I can fully believe that this sustained approach to life can have a material impact on important things like relationships and feelings of self-satisfaction. 
A metaphor for mental isolation and relaxation or a rock on Salema beach ?
I return from holidays, rejuvenated, tanned and relaxed to start a new academic cycle, carrying the hope that in the coming year I will be able to put these meditation ideas into practise more. 

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Fun, finance and fulfilment lures MBAs to the third sector

I have just signed up as a contributor to "The Conversation" an online journalistic innovation that claims to have share insights from the sharpest minds.  Not quite sure how I got through the assessment centre but here's a link to the piece with a fabulous turtle image (why ? - revealed in the piece) 

I have re-published the content below (part of the arrangement for writing is a community oriented copyright).  Thanks to Will@TheConversation for some expert editing.

The sharp-suited MBA graduate with grand world-domination plans is a stereotype familiar to us all. He or she will probably head into a high pressured, well paid role in consulting or financial services. Fortunately, while a few do follow this path, things are changing. Graduates from Masters of Business Administration programmes (commonly known as MBAs) are now following a much broader range of careers, and the third sector in particular is benefiting.

Royal Holloway MBA students in Sweden

The marketplace has of course changed significantly since the financial crisis began in 2008, and MBA-led business schools must share some of the blame for churning out graduates with a myopic vision of the business environment and an insufficient sense of appropriate ethics.
But changes over the past decade or two have increased the focus on corporate social responsibility, business philosophy and sustainability. But is this too little, too late for the social value of the MBA?
Postgraduate education can be counter cyclical, with severance packages and poor job prospects often encouraging people to finally take that MBA they had been considering for a while. However, the last three years have seen significant reductions in MBA applications, with a number of programmes “temporarily withdrawn”, pending a review. Perhaps we are witnessing an awkward phase in the sector, as supply adjusts to a new level of demand.

In this new context, non-government organisations (NGOs) and charities are increasingly important areas for MBA graduates to consider. Many organisational roles in the sector offer interesting challenges combined with good training and development. Pay is also on the increase, with senior management at major charities now routinely earning six figure salaries. Given the fulfilling nature of most work in the sector, it can offer satisfaction that earning a high salary for work you hate cannot compete with.

Third sector organisations are required to operate against changing expectations for operational, financial and ethical standards. With differences between private, public and third sector business models ever-diminishing, it is clear that MBA skills are transferable and in demand.
To give one example, a recent Royal Holloway MBA alumnus chose to take up an interim position as marketing director for a turtle conservation charity shortly after graduation. She reflected that the level of responsibility and scope to influence the organisation afforded to her was significantly greater than would have been granted in a for-profit company right after graduation.
With sluggish growth in large organisations and downsizing in the public sector, charities and NGOs now form a more significant part of the job market. Not only can they offer fast track opportunities for responsibility and personal growth, but they may also engender the money-can’t-buy feeling of making a difference in society.

The MBA is not, and never has been, a Henry Ford-style marketing proposition. Business schools use a variety of teaching methods, and the crucial peer learning context differs from school to school. Even the degrees themselves have changed over time.

Some argue that bending too far to satisfy candidate and employer demands may see a powerful business education dumbed down into a skills training service. After all education, not training, should be the core proposition of a university. Satisfying these demands may also underweight other stakeholders or see faddish approaches to themes or flavours of the moment. Functional or industry-oriented programmes have been around for a while but recently, in response to declining numbers, some UK universities have been putting forward conceptually labelled MBAs such as “One Planet” and “the circular economy”.

My impression is that the executive and full-time programmes have struggled, while the smaller distance learning format shows modest growth. But it is not the compensatory and explosive shift that the UK government would like to have seen. Rules introduced last year made post study visas harder to obtain, and this has had a significant, negative impact on the attractiveness of MBA programmes in the UK.

A more established and recognised path from business school to charitable career could easily be sustained. If the third sector believes the enhanced skills and experience of MBA graduates is worth offering competitive “complete” packages that can track (but not necessarily exceed) the wider market, then the numbers following this path will only grow.
MBA graduates are among the most talented, hard-working and highly skilled people out there. Let’s hope their qualification becomes more widely recognised and valued across all sectors of the economy.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Update from Ober Bayern

Just back to a cooler and gusty UK after a fabulous 11 days in Prien-am-Chimsee, in Bavaria, Germany. 
Instantly the idea of great food and large beer glasses comes to mind, and of course we enjoyed some of the finer things in German cuisine.  One of my rules historically has been to always try the untried on a menu when presented. 
Kaffee und Kuechen - World Klass
I guess this comes out of a sense of adventure, which is certainly one of the things we look for in a vacation.  Therefore, when I was offered gooseberry cake at one Biergarten (beer garden) we visited I just knew I had to try it.  I knew it would not complement the wheat beer that I'd ordered (to keep my fluids up, naturally, we'd been out in the sun all day and it was well over 30 degrees). 
The German afternoon tea and cakes experience is truly world class, like the football team in tournaments.  This particular ensemble starts with a pastry base, a sponge filler, green and red gooseberries in some sort of jelly setting topped off by two different layers of meringue, first flat and soft, the second piped and crunchier. 

It wasn't all about food.  Clearly beer was on the tasting menu, although I did not manage to negotiate any "educational visits" to a brewery, despite my serious academic interest in this area you will note from previous extensive posting on the topic. 

Historic and heraldic connotations ?
We did have to sample some of the various German beers, now that I have a wider experience of UK beer, ale and lagers, I put my palate to the test. 
One of the first times I remember drinking beer was on a school German exchange, which coincidentally  took place in Traunstein one of the larger towns on the other side of Chiemsee, when a few of the older exchange students went to Bar Xanadu, in Ruhpolding.  Wanting to look cool with the older group members who were all drinking Weiss beer, I dug out a fifth of my pocket money for the week in exchange for a large, tall glass of sour tasting fizzy stuff with an intensely unpleasant aroma.  Needless to say I managed to nurse this beer for quite a while, eventually finishing it off to find myself being asked to buy another one...errr ! no thanks, I'll take a small glass of brown fizz that will ruin my teeth instead please. 
Please note:  I do not endorse ceding to peer pressure nor under age drinking. 
In my on going quest to understand how to create an optimal beer brand I noted that many popular German brands use gold colouring and historic type fonts and brewed "since 18xx", perhaps to reinforce notions of craft, consistency and popularity.  Colouring and heraldic symbolism might suggest royal connections and a luxury connotation, whilst also indicating a sense of visual short cuts to a feeling of localism.  Bavaria is a particularly proud region of Germany that uses royal blue and white checkers as its flag that permeates a wide range of consumption experiences, and not only restricted to souvenir shops. 
We also learnt that the (humorously teased about) lederhosen (leather trousers - intricately decorated shorts with decorative braces) and the fashion around Tracht (traditional clothing) is Bavarians celebrating their culture, not for the tourists, but with each other and for each other. 
I'm sure there is an interesting paper to be written on this.  My wife was quite taken by the number of men wearing lederhosen styled swimming trunks in the lake.   I'm expecting a pair to be hidden under the Christmas tree for me this year.
Incidentally, dark brown, close to the colour of these swimmies, is the new car colour to have, certainly in Oberbayern.  Clearly bored to death with the ubiquitous silver colouring that has been the low risk, no body hates it, maximise my re-sale value for some time now.  To help establish my uber-kuhl credentials, our five year old family car is also this colour. 
View across the sun flooded valley from Rinsting to the Kampenwand
You might now be getting the picture of a lovely holiday, mountains, hot weather, nice friends, cool lake water to chill out in, great food and drink.  Being a critically trained MBA, I always look for faults and areas for improvement, and having worked in very international Frankfurt-am-Main and visited friends often since, we have some experience at picking up cultural and social differences. Aside from some of the areas larger tourist attractions (e.g. the Salt mine at Bertchesgarden, the boat to Herreninsel site of King Ludwig II's imitation of Versailles) we barely met any Brits.  In fact, in town going around the local businesses, we felt a bit like celebrities as our non-native conversation caught the attention.  Although we speak passable German, it was quite exciting to be somewhere where there were relatively few outsiders.  Everything worked.  Beer was relatively cheap (under £3 for half a litre). 
Food was reasonable and significantly cheaper than other parts of Germany.  We used to joke that shopping used to revolve around the workers need for a home life, namely only open when everyone is at work.  Not any more, the supermarkets were open until 20:00 !    Germans can be quite aggressive driving (perhaps a function of powerful German built cars and autobahn's without speed limits) , but the leisurely place around Prien-am-Chiemsee and lots of people riding bikes made even pootling around on errands and to and from the lake and swimming pool was ok.  Annoying re-cycling that Germany led the charge on back in the eighties hasn't moved on, and I could not get used to putting most of the rubbish into a single bin.  Where I live now in Surrey Heath we have to sort our rubbish into three main different groupings & then note specialist items like glass and clothing. 
So, bereft of faults, I find myself very relaxed, tanned and happy from a very successful family holiday made possible by our friends Sabs and Yogi.  The academic tourism literature highlights various push and pull motivations that sit behind the desire to travel.  The pull to this unusual location was very much to visit our friends.  But push factors of adventure, rest and relaxation and generating found, shared memories of quality family time were also delivered on.  We'll be back because we loved it, please don't put Bavaria on your "must see list", or 'bucket list' in more recent cultural jargon, you might tell your friends via social media (like this) and spoil it all for us next time ! (Smile). 
View of Fraueninsel, Chiemsee, Bavaria
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